This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the vesper sparrow.
In many religious traditions, vespers are prayers of thanksgiving recited or sung in the evening, a time of day that this bird is often heard singing. Not as shy as many other sparrow species, it frequently sings from elevated perches on the dryland shrubs found in its habitat.
The vesper sparrow breeds in grasslands and fields throughout the north central areas of the U.S. and Canada. It prefers open areas that have short, sparse grass and shrubs for perching, hiding and shade. Patches of dirt are important to this bird for rolling around in to take dust baths. The vesper is found in dry areas, including those recently burned or abandoned, and in weedy fields, brushy areas and mowed agricultural fields.
Using strong legs and feet, this sparrow often uses the hopping, double-scratch method to uncover the insects and seeds in its diet. In agricultural areas, where it helps to control insect pests and weed seeds, it is a welcome resident.
Although it looks like a typical medium-sized sparrow, the vesper has characteristics which set it apart. These include a bold, thin, white eye ring, white outer tail feathers that flash in flight and a chestnut-colored shoulder patch. In summer it is generally a solitary bird that prefers walking or running across the ground to flight.
Many western vesper sparrows winter in Mexico, where they forage with other grassland species. Loss of grassland habitat in both breeding and winter ranges has contributed to a decline in population numbers of this bird.
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