Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Song or Lincoln’s Sparrow? (WBW)

1. song sparrow-kab Song Sparrow 9-29-2011 Colchester, CT

A couple of days ago I mis-identified this bird as being a Lincoln’s Sparrow on my blog. I would like to correct myself. After reviewing some photos I have a Lincoln’s it became readily apparent to me that this was a Song Sparrow and not a Lincoln’s sparrow. So, how did I get the two mixed up? Well, song sparrows can have a wide variety of plumages. When I saw this bird in the bush, I noticed the buffy breast overlaid with dark streaking and the buffy auricular circle or stripe. These are characteristics of a Lincoln’s sparrow, but this bird is much too chunky for the Lincoln’s and the streaking far too dark and heavy. Below you can see a true Lincoln’s sparrow held by Bill Hilton, Jr. at the New River Birding and Nature Festival I attended in 2009.

2. Lincoln's sparrow NRBF WV-kab Lincoln’s Sparrow 4-27-2009 West Virginia

We were Birding by Butt on this day and we started the day watching a demonstration of the birds being banded after being caught in the mist nest set up that morning. When Bill held up the bird he asked anyone who knew what it was to raise their hand. I was the only ne there who could identify it as Lincoln’s sparrows are very secretive. However, I had just recently seen one in my yard in Sycamore Canyon in Arizona, where I lived at the time. since I knew what bird it was, I was given the privilege of releasing the bird after it was banded. I was simply in heaven! You can see the photos and read more in the links below, but today I want to make the point that this is a tiny sparrow, very delicate, with a buffy eye-ring, buffy malar stripe, and buffy breast overlaid with fine dark streaks. By looking at these two photos you can see the obvious difference. It always pays to take a second look. I have corrected the identification on my first post and in eBird. I hope this post helps you in your quest to learn how to identify these challenging sparrows!



  1. A great honor but I don't know how you identify most of the birds you see, especially sparrows and warblers. I have so much to learn from you.

  2. Thanks for the help with the id, Kathie! I do have trouble id-ing the sparrows. Great photo.

  3. Sparrows are so difficult!! It probably drove you crazy until you felt definite about the i.d. Good job!

  4. i would have a hard time IDing these little guys!! to me...they look SO're good...and i bet you feel a sigh of relief and satisfaction for having corrected yourself!! great!! and wonderful pictures!!

  5. I think Lincoln's Sparrows are one of the most subtle beauties. Those fine streaks and buff wash on the breast are the most helpful for me in field identification.

  6. Hi Katie... a rather easy mistake when it comes to the Sparrow!!
    I go to a site called All Sparrow Species is a photo gallery with names, and it can drive you nuts after a few seconds lol!!

  7. Hi Kathie, I still enjoy the challange of the new IDs we encounter but once you have logged it in the grey matter you never forget...

    Nice blog as well

  8. Gaelyn, and if I ever get back to the Grand Canyon I am coming to the north rim where I have so much to learn from you!

    eileen, so do I! they are tricky indeed!

    KaHolly, it didn't drive me crazy until I saw the old photo. THEN it drove me crazy!

    Thanks Dan!

    forestwalk, I just wish I had noticed the difference right off. I am always saying, "Just because you want to be, doesn't make it so!"

    Birding is fun, you are so right, but I was thrown off by the buff wash on the breast of the song sparrow, however,that streaking was just too heavy and dark. I wanted it to be a Lincoln's but it wasn't.

    Grammie G, I will have to check out that site! Thanks!

    Dave, I so wish that was true, LOL, but my gray matter is fading fast! Thanks for the visit and the comment!

  9. Great post Kathie. I think we all have trouble with sparrows. I think they are usually easier to ID while looking at their photos than it is in the field, unless you hear them sing.

  10. Not an easy ID. They are both lovely little birds.

  11. It is so much fun honing those birding identification skills isn't it? Seeing a new variation of sparrow is something remarkable indeed. Even a missed ID is a great source of learning! Awesome read Kathie, thanks for sharing your hard fought insights!

  12. Warblers and Sparrows are both tough to ID. Post like this are very important!

  13. Interesting post about the ID for those sparrows. Great photos.

  14. Enjoyed your post, Kathie. I know how often I have mistaken a Swamp Sparrow for a Lincoln's. Much of that was wishful thinking. It's thrilling to finally get to see a real one.

  15. Interesting post!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.


Welcome to my nest! I hope you will enjoy spending time here with me and the birds. Thank you for your comments. I will try to get back to you as soon as I get back from counting more birds.