Thursday, August 22, 2013

This week's Crops & Clips: Savannah Sparrow

It's easy to dismiss sparrows as nondescript little streaky brown birds that lurk in the bushes. Actually, the fourth bird I recorded on December 5, 1948, the day I started keeping a life list, was an "English Sparrow."  Now called the House Sparrow, it is not a member of the American sparrow family, but rather is classified as an Old World weaver finch or "true sparrow." 

Until I matched it with a picture in my first bird book I called it a "Chippie," because that was what my grandmother called them. Here is the page from a copy of that book, Chester A Reed's 1923 "Bird Guide - Land Birds East of the Rockies." Notice the properly dressed lady approaching on the sidewalk, and also the note of disgust in Reed's description. 


We see very few House Sparrows in our NE Illinois yard, although they are common around nearby shopping centers. Until new homes replaced the open fields around our condo, our most common sparrow was the Savannah Sparrow, illustrated two pages later in Reed's guide.


The actual sparrow does not resemble the rotund, broad-tailed and weary-looking one in Reed's painting. My first ever photo of a Savannah Sparrow captured its mischevious nature as it peeked out at me from a clump of grass. I took this photo in Florida, the first of my few sightings of this species there in the local wetlands

Savannah Sparrow 2008_10_31 

This bird occupies one of the utility markers upon which I focused my camera while parked near our Illinois condo. The photo shows off the bright yellow highlight over the Savannah Sparrow's eye. 

Savannah Sparrow 20100605

They often posed atop the rock piles they shared with other prairie bird species. I had the advantage of positioning the car in a spot where the early morning sun would provide perfect light. The only variable was what kind of bird would be the first to alight.

Savannah Sparrow 3-20120506 

Savannah Sparrows are usually found on or near the ground...

Savannah Sparrow-2 20081107

...but they will sing from the highest point available when claiming or protecting their nesting territory.

Savannah Sparrow 20100428

When agitated, the sparrow may raise its crown.

Savannah Sparrow 2-20110707

All Savannah Sparrrows have crisp breast streaks that often coasesce into a central spot resembling that of a Song Sparrow, but they are smaller than the latter species and their thin and proportionally shorter tails are usually notched rather than rounded. This individual was quite pale.

Savannah Sparrow 2-20130515

In another bird the breast streaking was rather sparse. Note the distinctive black malar streak, or "moustache."

Savannah Sparrow 3-20101101

One local bird had very narrow streaking.

Savannah Sparrow SOOC crop 20100516

This specimen, photographed at Forsythe National Refuge (Brigantine Unit) in New Jersey, was remarkably dark.

Savannah Sparrow at Brig 2-20091013


  1. Beautiful photos of this cute bird.

  2. i enjoyed getting to know these birds this winter when they spent several weeks hanging around my feeder. very cute little ones!

  3. Great variety of sparrows. I always like seeing them, but I'm kind of a fan of the ordinary I guess. I like them all. We are so lucky nowadays to have your photos ... they capture their "personalities" so much better than those old drawings. (Your Savannah peeking out of the reeds is priceless). And that author really really didn't like English sparrows...that was funny to read such an opinionated thing in a bird book .

  4. I did not know that about the 'history' of the House Sparrow. I found this very interesting!! And loved the sweet sparrows you've shared.

  5. That flash of yellow sets these fellows off so well!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  6. That description of Passer domesticus sure made me laugh Ken. however the species is a great success wherever it is introduced and rather inronically it is not doing well in the UK. Brilliant shots of the Savannah Sparrow, a rather muted but lovely bird.

  7. Such a pretty little character in all these images. Lovely photos.

  8. WOW! You've been birding since 1948! Amazing.

    Savannah sparrows are such pretty little birds, one of the few sparrows I can identify easily.

  9. Great post and beautiful shots of the Sparrow!

  10. the yellow. All I see around my home is the house sparrow. You're lucky.

  11. Wow! In every single one of these, the background colors harmonize perfectly with the bird! Great photos!

  12. Wow! Reed had nothing good to say about the House Sparrow.
    Beautiful photos of the little Savanna Sparrow.

  13. Fascinating to see all the different plumage, Ken. And I LOVE the one of it peering out of the rushes. What a great capture!


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