Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wondering Wednesday

Sparrow Identification
Spring migration is a time not only to see and enjoy many wonderful birds but also an opportunity for birdwatchers from novice through experienced to learn or share.
I have about 138 life birds under my belt so not quite a beginner.
However when it comes to identifying skills I am novice.
I met an experienced birder while out and about this spring.
He shared with me a little birding identification 101.

The Lesson
Basic but good advice...
He told me to look at a robin, a common bird I see daily.
"Now close your eyes. Tell me everything you can remember about that bird."
After mentioning the obvious orange breast and dark gray feathers, he asked me for specifics. "What color are the feet, and beak? Does it have an eye ring? If so, complete or partial?" After guiding me toward getting details that would lead my search toward identification, he told me to look for differences instead of similarities to narrow the possibilities.

So here goes:
What do I see?
I saw this sparrow for just a moment and was lucky to get a photo.
I see:
  • A buffy streaked chest
  • White chin
  • White eye-ring, complete
  • Gray eyebrow
  • Rufous crown stripe (ruffled because I startled it)
  • Rufous or brownish malar and eye stripe
  • The beak looks two toned grayish top
  • I can't see the feet or back very well.

I was able to exclude many sparrow that did not have these common features.
Here are two I found that share these characteristics.
Lincoln Sparrow
Juvenile Song Sparrow.

My next step look for differences in the two.
What is different?

My National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America tells me
The juvenile Song Sparrow should have a longer tail.
When I look at this tail, it is hard to tell but I would go with shorter.

the Lincoln's Sparrow should have thinner beak and malar stripe.
Behavior I noted was mentioned in this guide. It is known to raise it's crest when disturbed.
This bird did ruffle it's crest when it saw me.
However, the malar stripe looks to be a strong feature like on the Song Sparrow to me.
Two out of three differences: 1. The shorter tail and 2. the behavior
leads me to guess Lincoln's sparrow.

I am wondering on this fine Wednesday...
What is the correct identification of this sweet Sparrow.


  1. Lovely sparrow! I am not good with my identification so I don't know what kind of Sparrow it is but it's cute and you captured it nicely in your photo!

    Have a great day!

  2. You know what I really like about this post??? Glad you asked...I like the lesson in bird identification - this to me is what a great blog post is, interesting and informative - leaving the reader with an idea for the next time he/she is in the field and face to face with a new bird -
    Based upon your deductive reasoning above I believe this to be a Lincoln's Sparrow - see link

  3. the yellowish wash on the breast also point to Lincoln's.

  4. Debbie, wonderful post & photo! I have been birding for less than a year and your post has opened my eyes to identification. Thank you kindly for passing on helpful ID tips. The closer we look at our beautiful feathered friends, the more appreciative we become.

  5. Licon Sparrow I definitely think. Here is a link to another to compare.

  6. A wonderful post Debbie!!! Quite educational!

  7. Sweet little sparrow. I've always wanted to see a Lincoln's Sparrow.

  8. Thank you everyone for the ID help and wonderful comments. Blog comments, twitter and facebook comments all agree with the Lincoln sparrow identification.
    A special thank you to Robert, Mary Jo, Tracy, and Karen for the specifics and pics that confirmed and shared reasons pointing toward the Lincoln sparrow.
    How wonderful to now add the Lincoln Sparrow to my Life List. I appreciate your help and comments very much, thanks again.