Photo courtesy Charles Martinez
This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the Harris’s sparrow.
Although these birds inhabit only a narrow geographical range found in the midsection of the United States and Canada, some individuals wander far during migration and show up in unexpected places. Over the years, at least one of these sparrows has been reported in each of the lower 48 states. The bird in this photo made an appearance at the Navajo Lake area during November.
Harris’s sparrows breed only in the far northern regions of central Canada in areas near treeline. This habitat is characterized by small patches of stunted trees, shrubby thickets, lichens and open tundra. Returning in spring to their breeding grounds early in the season, they rely on last year’s berries to sustain them until insects become abundant. Seeds, plant buds, grasses and spruce needles are also a part of their diet.
Like other sparrows, Harris’s forage primarily on the ground, but often feed more in the open than others. When disturbed they are more apt to fly into a tree or shrub for cover than to duck under a bush. In winter, they are found living in fields, shrubby pastures, hedgerows and near streams in the southern Great Plains area from Iowa into Texas.
The Harris’s is the largest of the brown, streaky sparrows found in North America. It is distinguished by a black face, bib and crown, a pink bill and white belly. The amount of black increases with age and breeding status.
Partners in Flight estimates a 63 percent population loss in this species during the last 50 years, with habitat changes brought about by global warming posing a serious threat to this bird. Because their breeding grounds are so remote, the best estimates of population trends come from Christmas Bird Counts on their winter grounds. Consider joining the local Christmas Bird Count in December organized by Weminuche Audubon Society.
For more information on activities and to get involved in the annual Christmas Bird Count, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.