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Sparrow of the Week: 10 Things about the Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

Day 46 of 100 Days of Blogging

A sparrow that sings in the moonlight seems like the perfect Sparrow of the Week given all the Supermoon hype at the moment! 

Like the previous sparrows in our series, the Swamp Sparrow is one of the 13 breeding sparrow species on the PQSPB checklist. So far we have covered the Chipping Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Nelson’s Sparrow and the White-throated Sparrow in the countdown to the 100th year anniversary. 

Sparrow of the Week #6

Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)

Family: Emberizidae French: Bruant des marais

#1. The Swamp Sparrow is a medium-sized sparrow that breeds across the boreal forests of Canada and the northern United States . 

#2. The song of the Swamp Sparrow is a slow trill and males have occasionally been heard singing during the night. One researcher reported a male singing at 02:30 AM on a moonlit night. 

For the best effect, when you play the song file, imagine him perched and silhouetted on a tall tree as he sings by the light of a silvery moon!

#3. According to the Boreal Songbird Initiative an estimated 79% of the North American Swamp Sparrow population breeds within the Boreal Forest.

#4. This sparrow is aptly named since it breeds in swampy habitat such as freshwater cattail marshes, brushy meadows, bogs, sedge, swamps, and brackish marshes.

#5. Nest flooding resulting in the loss of entire clutches is a risk faced by these sparrows since nests are placed just above the ground or water’s surface. Presumably, the placement of the nest is a trade-off for safety from nest predation.

#6. This sparrow mostly forages on the ground near the water’s edge, in shallow water or in marsh vegetation. Fruit and seeds make up its diet during winter but during the breeding season it scratches and thrashes in leaves for arthropods.

#7. The Swamp Sparrow will do whatever it can to catch aquatic insects, even if it means sticking its head underwater! These birds have been observed doing so while standing on a stalk of grass and going after prey in the water.

#8. The Swamp Sparrow was first described by John Latham in 1790 and gets the Latin part of its name, georgiana, from the state of Georgia where the specimen he used for his description was collected. (“Collected” of course means acquired  with the help of a shotgun, as described in a couple of earlier blog posts. Please read  Outrageous Facts in Bird Conservation History – Part 1and Part 2 for more on the early days of ornithology in North America.

#9. Small populations are believed to remain year-round on the southern edge of their breeding range, but most birds are migratory and move to the southeastern United States.

#10. According to the North American breeding Bird Survey, this specie’s population is stable. However, wetland conservation is important for ensuring healthy population numbers in the future.

Sparrow of the Week: The Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow - Pooecetes gramineus

Day 39 of 100 days of Blogging

The Vesper Sparrow, whose song has inspired writers like Henry David Thoreau and John Burroughs, is this week’s featured species of the 13 New World  sparrows that breed in the PQSPB checklist area.

Sparrow of the Week #5: Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)

Family: Emberizidae   French: Bruant vespéra

10 Things about the Vesper Sparrow

#1. The Vesper Sparrow gets its common name from naturalist John Burroughs who described the bird as a “minstrel of the twilight field” in his poem Vesper Sparrow, referring to its habit of singing long after most other birds have become still. (The sunset evening prayer service in the Catholic Church is known as vespers.)

#2. Its song is clear and melodious, or in Burroughs more poetic words : “like wandering notes from a silver flute.”

You can decide for yourself, just play the sound file below!

#3. Vesper Sparrows breed in open grassy areas across most of North America. If you happen to be handy with Latin and Greek, you’d have figured that out from its scientific name: Pooecetes means “grass dweller” and gramineus means “fond of grass”. In fact, one of the names it was known as prior to the 1880’s was Grass Finch.

#4. The vesper Sparrow migrates to the southern and central United States and Mexico for the winter.

#5. Prior to the European settlement of North America, the Vesper Sparrow inhabited sparsely vegetated, open and fairly dry or disturbed sites that were created by fire, erosion, or bison.

#6. European settlement and clearing of forests for farmland was advantageous for the Vesper Sparrow; its eastern range expanded to its current distribution by 1900. Today there is a population decline as the result of the abandonment agricultural practices.

#7. This species is also negatively affected by the trend toward earlier harvest (e.g., Jun) of first hay crop, and more frequent cutting, which destroys nests.

#8. Vesper Sparrows eat invertebrates, insects, spiders beetles, grasshoppers and caterpillars during breeding season. They also eat grass seeds, weed seeds, and waste grains in all seasons.

#9. This medium-large sparrow runs and hops and, although it is a strong flier, it usually moves through ground vegetation instead of flying. It is most likely to be confused with the Song Sparrow or the Savannah Sparrow.

#10. The Vesper Sparrow seeks the shade of plants during midday. It may roost on dusty road surfaces, using ruts for shade during the heat of day.


Sparrow of the Week

10 Things about the Savannah Sparrow

Day 30 of 100 Days of Blogging

This week we highlight the Savannah Sparrow for our weekly feature of one of the sparrow species that breeds in the PQSPB checklist area. Hard to believe we are at post #30 already! Only 70 days and blog posts to go as we count down to the 100th Anniversary!

Sparrow of The Week #4

Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)

Family:   Emberizidae   French: Bruant des prés

#1. Click to hear the Savannah Sparrow’s Song

#2. This sparrow  was named by Alexander Wilson for the town of Savannah, Georgia where the type specimen was collected. You may remember Wilson  and some of the other 19th century naturalists responsible for many common bird names, if you read “10 Birds and how they got their names“.

#3. Savannah Sparrows are sexually monomorphic in plumage. While they may be confused in appearance with the Song or Vesper Sparrows, they can be differentiated from these by the yellow stripe over the eye.

#4. This sparrow generally walks while foraging on the ground or in low bushes . When a potential predator or brood parasite approaches its nest, the Savannah sparrow may scamper on the ground zig-zag with both wings raised ostentatiously. This species mainly eats seeds, but will also eat insects during the breeding season.

#5. The Savannah Sparrow is widely distributed across North America. It may be found in grassland areas as well as in coastal areas near tidal salt marshes and estuaries. Can be found as far north as the Tundra in Alaska and Canada.

#6. During the breeding season Savannah Sparrows occur in pairs or family groups; they assemble in flocks for the winter migration. They
spend the winter  from the southern United States across Central America and the Caribbean to northern South America.

#7. Adults tend to reoccupy the same breeding site, and in island populations birds commonly return to their natal site. This tendency is called natal philopatry.

#8. The strong tendency for philopatry has resulted in reproductive isolation and substantial geographic variation; 17 subspecies are currently recognized.

#9. As in many passerines, annual mortality of adults is about 50%.

#10. A number of biological characteristics makes the Savannah Sparrows an attractive model species for research in the fields of ecology and evolution. Several such studies have contributed greatly to the general field of knowledge about avian mating systems, behaviour and evolution.


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