Friday, October 17, 2014

A Re-Salute to Sparrows (Or, Salute to Sparrows Installment II)

Butler's Birds went to some fantastic places this past summer, birding all along the Rio Grande Valley, in the Piedmont and tidewater coast of North Carolina as well as the Great Smoky Mountains. Of course, Arizona factored in too, with the Santa Rita foothills giving up some choice offerings in August. The main reason for doing this, of course, was to further the Butler's Birds goal of finding, photographing, and cruelly judging all North American Sparrow species as if they were merely intricately patterned, audibly diverse chattel, or even worse still, Miss American contestants. 

Harris's Sparrow IQ = Miss Texas IQ, despite what the sparrow says. But which sounds better?

I know I know, "That's mean!" Well, Butler's Birds didn't set out this summer to make friends. Seeing in the field and representing on the webpage are two very different things, as any bird blogger will tell you. Naturally I saw more Sparrows this summer than I photographed well, and saw more than I photographed at all. Alas, Bachmann's and Seaside Sparrow eluded the lens and judgment for a little longer, but their time shall come. (Bachmann's Sparrow, particularly, is fearing that final reckoning).   

Without further adieu, here are a few more installments of the Butler's Birds Salute to Sparrows. This information has also been recorded on the main thread, which will always be updated with new additions. 

Botteri's Sparrow: Also famously known as the "dumpy plain boring flat-headed little shit sparrow" in Arizona, the Botteri's is the Bachmann's Sparrow of Southeast AZ and Texas. Little sprinkles of rufous here and there are insufficient to spicing on this dull-flavored bird. There is something to be said for a handsome platinum beak, but that's not too special for a sparrow. 
Vocalization: More creative that one might expect, with almost vireo-esque single notes preceding a crescendo trill that is clearly an homage to Black-chinned. 7/10
Appearance: Unimpressive, plain, and what is the deal with that crew cut? 5/10
Overall: 6/10

Field Sparrow: Named for the renowned plumber Gerald P. Field, the Field Sparrow is the bread and butter sparrow for much of the midwest and eastern United States. As the name coincidentally indicates, it favors grasslands and agricultural areas, especially near woods. It looks, acts, and sounds like we expect an American sparrow should. Although this Sparrow has lost much of its relevance and esteem in current discussions and appreciations of Sparrows, the FISP had a heavy hand in establishing the stereotypes of Sparrows that we birder enjoy today.
Vocalization: Bold and recognizable, as if all the roadside fields and grasslands in the east and midwest were filled with tinkling bouncing balls (as if).  7/10
Appearance: Warm toned but dull overall, reminiscent in some ways of a female House Sparrow. The pinkish-orange beak is a nice touch, but lipstick alone won't win pageants. 5/10
Overall: 6/10

Golden-crowned Sparrow: A large and hardy sparrow, not as well distributed as its better known White-crowned and White-throated cousins, the Golden-crowned is nonetheless a fine specimen. The individual shown below is a vagrant that visit Sun City on northern Phoenix every year for the last three winters at least. Can he even be called a vagrant anymore?
Vocalization: A pleasant, mournful song (overly) short, sweet, and to the point. 7/10
Appearance: Very typical for zonotrichia Sparrows. Of course the black and golden crown is distinct but a fancy hat it not always enough. 7/10
Overall: 7/10

Olive Sparrow: Often found in Texas next to strip malls next to Red Lobster and Baby Kays, the Oliver Garden Sparrow is a fun and fancy take on the traditional sparrow archetype--much like Oliver Garden is a fun and fancy...well, never mind. It is the only Sparrow in North America, maybe even the world, with an olive (yellow/green) back, which also continued onto the tail. It has a brown cap hemisected with white, a faint brown eye-line, and is non-migratory--gotta admire the commitment.
Vocalization: A series of full-bodied notes of similar pitch, never reaching the crescendo of other Sparrows. 6/10
Appearance: Inventive and colorful yet still reserved enough to show a Sparrow's good sense and economy of style. 8/10
Overall: 8/10


  1. LOVE sparrows. Liked your last post on them a while back. My opinion always seems to change on which one is my favorite. If I had to go with "now", I think Vesper would be my answer but I saw a pretty tidy Brewer's Sparrow last night and thought....that's a good looker. Simple but clean. During the summer, Botteri's and Cassin's made me smile. What turned into a hated group of birds has become one of my favorites to ID....similar to Sandpipers. I'd give them all 10's:)

    1. Cheers Chris,

      I share much more sentiment with you than I, being the haughty judge of Sparrows, can admit publicly without being seen as biassed and uncritical..err hem!

  2. Aweome post Mr. Laurence!!! I agree with Mr. Chris sparrows are great! Your post makes me want get out to southeast AZ and crush those sparrows!

    1. he he I still need to crush Bell's close to home, but yes this December a chilly foray for Baird's may be in order. Ouch!

  3. There are still so many sparrows I need.... sigh. Thanks for the reminder. Also, our GCSP's usually show the fancy black and yellow crown, so perhaps it's just the lower 8 that miss out on that...

    1. Heh, fair point. Your more intimate expertise has been noted and included in the updated rankings.

  4. It's nearly sparrow season back east. So excited. And hey, the day I return to the birding world and read about your sparrows is the day I post my rubbish seaside sparrow photo. They really hate photos. Had two opportunities to see them this year and they're little brown blurs every time.