Rare Find!

After months of not seeing or even hearing birds – at least not at the same level as last year this time – today was a stellar day. I will post some photos of the few other species I saw today, but this post is about the Harris’s Sparrow that showed up in the overgrown weeds near the old barn.

The bird I filmed doesn’t look anything the Harris’s sparrow at the AllAboutBirds guide. In fact, it didn’t look like any species I saw under “Sparrows” at that site. So, I posted to a IL birding group on Facebook for some assistance identifying what I figured was a sparrow – but which one? When I received the response that it was a Harris’s I figured it must be a juvenile, since the photos in the guide show a bird sporting a lovely and very distinctive black head and bib. I did a quick internet search for juvenile Harris’s sparrow images, and I’m pretty sure the person who assisted me from the FB group was right. Like the White-crowned Sparrow youngsters whose brown head markings change to black as they mature, I was able to see images of Harris’s sparrows that looked very much like the bird I filmed.

AllAboutBirds (link posted above) provides a map of the species’s breeding, wintering a migration locations. I’m taking the liberty to provide the species range image here – which, of course belongs to AllAboutBirds:

That is a very small range in which you can find this species!

Here’s some other info about this species that I’m quoting from the AllAboutBirds page on Harris’s Sparrow:

The Harris’s Sparrow is..”North America’s largest sparrow (except for towhees) and the only songbird that breeds in Canada and nowhere else in the world. In winter it settles in the south-central Great Plains, where it is a backyard favorite. Unfortunately, Harris’s Sparrow populations are declining; its restricted range make it vulnerable to habitat loss on the wintering and breeding grounds.”

Here are some additional images I captured of this lovely bird.

Curiously, as I was snapping photos of this bird that was about 100 feet away settled on an old fence post, a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow flew into the shot. The two birds had a “moment” before the WC flew off.

I feel very fortunate to have captured this somewhat rare bird – especially for where I live. The guide shows the eastern boundary of it’s migration route along the Mississippi river which is about eighty miles west of us. That wouldn’t seem so far off if I hadn’t looked at what a tiny range this bird has for it’s breeding and wintering grounds. It was a lucky day!

4 Comments on “Rare Find!

  1. I would love to see this bird someday. Thanks for sharing and including these wonderful photos!

  2. Wow, your photos tell quite a story! I wonder if the two sparrows were having a conversation along the lines of “get off my lawn!” Thank you for sharing. The decline of the Harris’s Sparrow reminds me of a novel, “Migrations,” by Charlotte McConaghy. It’s a tough read, but well written and inspiring – at least to me – to do something about the health of our climate and wildlife.

    • Hi Julia, Thank you for sharing that information about “Migrations.” Yes, I often wonder what sort of conversation is happening between birds. Some of my most memorable moments have happened between Bluebird couples when their chicks first hatch. I observe elevated squabbles which, I suppose, is due to the urgency of tending to such vulnerable chicks. They remind me of human new parents. In the photos I posted above, the image in which the Harris’s turns his gaze upwards and away strikes a chord. Sure, he may have just spotted an insect flying by. But, to me it looks like a moment when the Harris’s Sparrow emotes; “you aren’t that cool nor frightening to me. Be on your way!” OK… so, as a trained Biologist, I was taught not to “anthropomorphize.” But I have to say, my experience tells me that we are all more related than we are different. I think it’s important to show compassion for all the other creatures that share this planet.

  3. Congratulations for seeing the Harris Sparrow. Also entertaining with the White Crowned Sparrow

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