Bird Species of the Month: Sparrows by Dick Cissel

Thanks to John Mangold, Sue Tavaglione and Bobby O'Link for their photos.

The fall birding season of 2012 will be remembered for its sparrows. They've been turning up at both ends of the county from Fort De Soto Park to the Brooker Creek Preserve. I can't remember hearing about so many Clay-colored Sparrows. With the addition of a few others its really kept the spirit alive that on almost any day afield you're bound to run into a sparrow or two. So, we've decided here at to give ya'll a few photos of the sparrows you might expect to see the remaining days of this fall season - which ends on the last day of November - and the upcoming winter season.

Left- John Mangold Above- D Cissel

Savannah Sparrow - Next to the Swamp Sparrow, this is Pinellas' most common wintertime sparrow. They are found in grassy situations and to a degree, brushy habitats. Not the streaked head pattern, streaked breast, and in the adults you'll often see a yellowish eyebrow.

Swamp Sparrow - There are probably more Swamp Sparrows in Pinellas in winter than all the other sparrows combined. They are found along lake edges, swamp edges, brushy areas and weedy fields. Their distinctive "chip", a bit softer than an Eastern Phoebe's, usually gives their presence away. Note the gray eyebrow (supercilium) and the gray collar. Note, too, the rufous in the wings and tail. (Photo below left - Sue Tavaglione).

Chipping Sparrow - Just a bit further north Chipping Sparrows are common in winter. Here in Pinellas, not so much. They will come readily to a feeder full of safflower and sunflower seeds (take note, north county bird feeder types). They are clear-breasted, long-tailed, have a black line through the eye and a rufous crown. (Photo above right - Dick Cissel)

Grasshopper Sparrow - Another species that prefers short grass situations, as well as pastureland or scrublands, is the

Grasshopper Sparrow. They are uncommon, at best. They are hard to detect unless flushed, and then they'll fly off and, if you're lucky, will perch up to take a look at what just caused them to fly. Last year, if you will recall, one was very obliging to those that visited the

area where the Green-tailed Towhee was at Possum Branch. They have a buffy breast, a prominent eyering, a large bill, and are very flat-headed.

Song Sparrow - The heavily-streaked breast, long, rounded tail and dark malar streak bordering the white throat are the distinguishing field marks for the Song Sparrow. They, too, often give themselves away by their call note; a nasal and hollow"chimp". They are found in brushy areas and thickets, especially near water. A few overwinter in Pinellas each year. The photo below left was taken at Possum Branch.

White-crowned Sparrow - If only those White-crowned Sparrows that are found would stick around into the winter season. They rarely do, however. They are defined by their pink, yellowish, of orange bill. The adults have a white and black striped crown, a whitish throat, and grayish underparts. (Photo right).

Lincoln's Sparrow - In our opinion the most handsome of the sparrows is the Lincoln's Sparrow. Too bad we don't get to see them often. Last winter one hung around Possum Branch Preserve and this fall one has been seen there again. Same bird? Who's to say? It is closely related to the Swamp Sparrow. It has hat same gray nape and face, but a bit of a buffy wash to the breast with fine streaking. It also has a whitish chin and an eyering. It is found in brushy situations, often near water, and they are very secretive and timid. See below.

Lark Sparrow - There aren't too many passerines that easier to identify than the adult Lark Sparrow. A bold face pattern and in most cases a central breast spot gives this species away. Last spring one spent several months near the fort at Fort De Soto Park, an unusual occurrence. Finding one in winter is plain luck!

Clay-colored Sparrow - We don't remember any fall season in Pinellas in which there were as many Clay-colored Sparrows reported as this fall.They are common out west, but not here. They prefer brushy fields and streamside thickets. Note the pronounced wingbars, the pale lores and the conspicuous pale submoustachial stripe. Lots of features on a very distinctively-patterned sparrow.