And Speaking of Sparrows…

I saw this little one at 3 Lakes WMA in central Florida in July.  I have been through the sparrow pages in all of my guides several times on it, but I just can’t nail the ID.  Unfortunately, what you see is what you get as this bird did not want to perch facing us (and all the images pretty much look the same… I chose the best four because of their clarity).  These photos were all shot from a distance through the truck window, so the overall quality is pretty poor.

Thanks in advance for any help!





As a point of note, I know that 3 Lakes is one of the few places where the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrows still “thrive” because of the prairie land there, but I don’t believe this is one of them (unfortunately).


18 responses to “And Speaking of Sparrows…

  1. Wow, nice find! A look through all the Ammodramus sparrows in my Beadle & Rising sparrow books sure makes this look good for Grasshopper. But I’m the opposite of an expert, so don’t go by me.

  2. Wow indeed! OK, first question. Are we sure this even IS a sparrow? Could it be something like a Longspur, Dickcissel or Spindalis? I admit, it does scream ‘sparrow’, but then again, that eye is massive! So too is that beak! So, here are my observations…
    Massive eye, large beak (perhaps bicolored), long tail. There’s a very dark patch on the wing that almost looks blue (as if it’s a Bunting about to develop summer plumage). Pink feet, white throat.
    Ah-ha! I just thought, could it be a leucistic or partial albino sparrow and all the coloration is off?! I keep looking at one picture and making my mind up, but then when I look at the other pictures I change my mind. Sparrows (to me) are almost as tricky as shorebirds! I can say for certain it’s NOT a willet! It seems to have the almost complete eye-ring and bill of the Henslow’s Sparrow, and a little of the Vesper in it. You know what I’d do Jenn? I’d dig into eBird sightings for that period / location and see what other birders were seeing (or guessing).

  3. OK, I had a look at eBird’s range-data and everyone seems to be seeing Bachman’s Sparrows (and pretty much nothing else). Weirdly, the first checklist I clicked on (the one nearest to 3-Lakes WMA) was submitted by Graham Williams – who I met a few days ago at WWP (looking for the VFC)! Also, the 3-Lakes WMA is on ‘Williams Road’ – spooky! 🙂

  4. A few images from a Google Image search of (purported) Grasshopper Sparrows in similar poses:

    A lot of the features bear a strong resemblance to Jenn’s image. I’m not seeing those yellow lores in Jenn’s shots, but they may not always show, or simply don’t show given the shooting conditions.

  5. OK, I’ve been digging around on Google-images and I’m now leaning heavily towards Bachman’s Sparrow. Here are 5 pictures I ripped, I think #5 is the definitive proof…. oh wait, how do we add pictures to this? I guess I’ll have to add a new blog….

  6. Oops Jenn! Those pictures ended up on the other website, so go to FBWs.

  7. Great minds! 🙂 You’re right, there are a lot of Bachman’s images that look like Jenn’s bird.

  8. Since Diane has been active in this discussion and is not a member of FLB, DaLo, could you please post the photos here. Yes, you need to post, instead of comment. If you can’t title it, I will so people know what it refers to. (Signed, with my other hat) Administrator..

  9. Aw, that’s sweet of you, SLB. But I don’t want anyone to go to extra trouble on my account. As you know, I just ended up here after We Love Birds imploded, but I can see this is evolving into a nice community of Florida birders, and I’m just not in FL.

  10. Please see the post, “It’s no trouble” where DaLo posted photos in response to this post, “And Speaking of Sparrows…” Wish there was way to post photos in comments, but there isn’t.

  11. I had the same thought as DaLo….are we sure this is even a Sparrow? It looks quite large. Often, female Red-winged Blackbirds are misidentified as Sparrows in spite of the fact that they are larger than a Sparrow. It will be interesting to see if this bird can be correctly identified. You’re right, DaLo, they’re just as difficult as shorebirds.

  12. Thanks for the redirect, SLB!

  13. Thanks for all the great input so far! The photos have been helpful, to be sure. It seems to be another case where the bird may not fit the mold, (something we just recently discussed here, if I recall).

    I had first considered a longspur because of its shape. I don’t remember why I knocked that option out though… give me a moment and I will grab a guide to reconsider…

    DaLo, I can at least agree with your original assessment that it is NOT a Willet, so we can cross out that option! 😀

  14. Ok… I had a bit of an epiphany, so I am going to take a different approach now. I recall the first time I saw a juvenile E. Towhee in my yard. It took several run-throughs and sightings before I realized I was watching a juvenile bird. I have noticed that many guides omit a photo/illustration the juvenile Eastern Towhee plumage; luckily NatGeo did not.

    So, just now, I went to the complete National Geographic book. After remembering the above instance, it struck me that this sighting was at the height of “baby bird season” which increases the likelihood of this being a juvenile bird.

    We know it is almost certainly an Emberizid of some type. I think I will try a few image searches for some of the suggested birds in their juvenile plumage and see what I come up with.

    Also, supposing it is a sparrow, NatGeo suggests using a different approach for them: First, consider shape, then habitats and habits, and finally field marks. I have no habits to report, unfortunately… aside from the fact that it was sitting in a pine tree (which may, itself, be helpful). 🙂

  15. “Your” bird’s beak is closer to the top of the head than the Towhee, and there is less of a diagonal angle from the top of the head to the beak on your bird. While the Towhee appears to have a rounder head, I think it just be because of the beak placement. Yours appears to have a very white throat while the juv. Towhee does not. Unlike the juvenile Towhee, your bird does not seem to have black wing feathers (except for the two white bars) and black tail feathers. The eye ring on your bird seems to be more pronounced than the juvenile Towhee. I only compared the juv. Towhee to the Sparrow you posted and not the other suggestions. See post called A Juvenile Towhee with Sparrow from “And Speaking of Sparrows” Jenn, let me know what you think, and I expect to hear from others, too.

  16. SLB, I don’t think she meant that this bird was a towhee, just that one she sighted earlier reminded her of the importance of considering juvenile appearance when ID’ing.

    And Jenn, that is SO true. Esp., as you say during baby bird season. That’s one reason (excuse) why I have so many field guides–some will show one juvie, some another. And google images can be most helpful here as well.

  17. Ooops… just saw Diane’s reply here (even though I posted a similar clarification on an addendum earlier… my email inbox was a little on the full side this morning for lack of computer time lately, so I missed the notification :D).

    Yes, sorry for the confusion on that. I was relating the story of the towhee as an example.

    After doing some further research, I am thinking this guy (above) is a juv sparrow. Diane, that is my reason (it is a reason ;)) for having so many guides as well. What’s funny is that, after the incident with the towhee, I began judging every guide based on that little bird’s description/photo! 😀

  18. Oh, I know. I did that when it was only thru Sibley that I was able to ID a juvie YB Sapsucker. So that became my guide standard for a while. 😀

    Eventually I came to realize that one guide can’t be all things to all people!

    Really, tho, I’m amazed at how many birders seem to think they just need one guide. Collecting books is not only helpful, it’s a nice additional part of the hobby, if you ask me.