I'm not really good at identifying sparrows (or warblers, or gulls, or shorebirds, but that's another story) but I am very familiar with the "regular" sparrows in my yard.
Chipping Sparrows return in April and breed in the area. Song Sparrows typically pass through in March while April brings the migrating Fox and White-throated Sparrows. And in May, I usually have White-crowned Sparrows pass through. All these sparrows, thank heavens, are very distinctive and easy to identify.
Last year, I had a first-ever Field Sparrow and in 2008, a Savannah Sparrow. These two tested my sparrow identification skills. But the bird that first appeared in my yard this May 8th was different. A sparrow for sure, but different.
Instead of grabbing a field guide right away, I wrote down what I thought were the key field marks on the bird:
- Dark stripe behind the eye
- Buff colored mustache bordered by darker stripes
- gray and brown crown striping
- whitish chin with some streaking
- streaks on flank
- streaking on upper breast
Then I hit the field guide and also put to use a new book I picked up a few months ago called Sparrows of the United States and Canada by David Beadle and James Rising.
I tried a rule-out process and ended up with one clear match: LINCOLN'S SPARROW - a new bird to my yard! While my initial looks at this bird were on a dark and dreary overcast day, it did spend a few more days in the yard, giving me much better looks than I had on the first day it appeared.
Here's some stuff I also read up on about the Lincoln's Sparrow:
- In migration, they skulk around in dense, low cover and are rarely far from cover.
- Not generally found in flocks.
- They winter along the west coast, in the southwest US and through Mexico.
- Their breeding grounds include an area in the Adirondacks of New York state.
So nice to have the Lincoln's Sparrow visit my yard for a few days to become Yard Bird #93, and the first of 2012.