Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the Savannah sparrow.

This often-overlooked bird is one of the most numerous songbirds in North America. In summer, it occurs across much of the United States, including Alaska, and throughout Canada.

Although Savannah, meaning treeless plain, also describes this bird’s habitat preference, the Savannah sparrow was actually named for the city in Georgia, where it was first collected and described. In all seasons, these sparrows inhabit grasslands including meadows, pastures, cultivated fields and roadsides.

In many parts of their range, these sparrows tend to return for breeding to the area where they hatched. This tendency, known as natal philopatry, separates the population and leads to the formation of subspecies with noticeable physical differences. Currently, there are 17 recognized subspecies of Savannah sparrow, ranging in color from pale gray-brown to rusty.

The ones which we see in our area are small-sized sparrows with white undersides cut by thin dark stripes. Some show a dark central spot like that of a song sparrow. The head appears small, and the crown, cut by a central stripe, may be flared. A yellowish or whitish strip above the eye is distinctive.

In breeding season, males perch and sing a buzzy insect-like song to establish and defend territory. These sparrows are not particularly shy and may forage in the open in small flocks for insects and spiders in summer and grass seeds in winter. Recently, a flock was seen doing just this near Vista pond.

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