In last week’s column on dark-eyed juncos, I mentioned that juncos are frequently seen feeding down on the ground with sparrows. Sparrows, for many birders, can be very challenging to identify. Today’s column will touch on some of the more common winter sparrow species found in the area.
Where you live affects which kinds of sparrows occur in your yard. Birds are habitat-specific and are not evenly distributed in all areas of town. Here is a very brief rundown on 12 sparrow species found in the Prescott area – and there are more that could be discussed.
One of the more abundant species is the non-native house sparrow. This is an introduced species and is a frequent visitor to backyard feeders in densely populated areas. They are not common in areas with a lot of native habitat, but occur more frequently in city settings.
Our most common winter sparrow is the white-crowned sparrow. In adult plumage, males and females wear a beautiful pattern of bold black and white stripes on the crown of the head. Juveniles sport brown and tan stripes during their first winter.
Chipping sparrows are abundant in yards with native vegetation. They occur in small flocks, and, like all other sparrow species, they are ground feeders. In winter, their non-breeding plumage consists of fine streaking on the crown of the head, compared to their bold rufous crown during breeding season.
A less common winter visitor is the Lincoln’s sparrow. This species is usually seen singularly. It is somewhat of a skulker, but is seen from time to time in backyard feeding areas.
In some areas, rufous-crowned sparrows are a regular visitor. Where I live I have never seen one, but our yard doesn’t have the right habitat for them. They prefer a rocky habitat consisting of granite boulders with chaparral vegetation. If you live in an area like this, look for this species.
If you live in an area bordering a grassland setting, there are three sparrow species that you should be on the lookout for Savannah sparrow, vesper sparrow and lark sparrow. These species are not usually seen in residential settings. A walk around Willow Lake or out by the airport is a good place to encounter these species in winter. At Willow and Watson Lakes you can also see song sparrows, a species that prefers the margins around water sources.
In winter, there is always the chance to see unusual species. I have seen golden-crowned sparrows, white-throated sparrows and fox sparrows here in Prescott, but they are not regular visitors. However, it pays to check out the birds that occur in your yard, as it is always possible to have one of these uncommon visitors in your yard.
A quick reminder: On Friday, Oct. 29, in Sedona, and on Saturday, Oct. 30, in Prescott, we will be hosting our seven-year anniversary event. We will be serving up a free lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and we will have live birds of prey on display in the stores. At noon we will announce the winners of our second annual wild bird photo contest. This year we are pleased to have as a special guest a truly extraordinary birder, Rick Taylor, and he will be signing his new book “Birds of Southeastern Arizona.” And, finally, this is the last week of our Fall Seed Sale.