Lincoln’s sparrow secretive, not usually seen

Cathryn Cunningham/Journal

Most of us are familiar with the very common house sparrow. What many may not know is that there are at least 30 different sparrow species, often referred to as LBJ’s (little brown jobs) listed in “The Sibley Field Guide To Birds of Western North America.”

One of these sparrows is the Lincoln’s sparrow. This sparrow is fairly common throughout western North America, but secretive, so not commonly seen.

The Lincoln’s sparrow is 5.75 inches long with a brownish-gray head and back. It has very fine dark streaking on its back and upper breast with a white lower belly.

The head markings are the best way to identify this little sparrow. It can raise its head feathers which gives it a small crest like appearance. It has a buffy eye-ring with a broad gray eyebrow. The bill is small and pointed.

This is one of my favorite sparrows. I assumed it was named after President Abraham Lincoln, but it was actually named by John James Audubon after his friend, Thomas Lincoln.

In the spring the male can be heard singing from trees or thickets near the edge of mountain meadows or along streams and marshes. The song is very melodious but not guaranteed to attract a mate. A study found that female Lincoln’s sparrows were more attracted to males that sang on colder mornings than those that sang during the warmer months. Perhaps the females think the colder weather singers are heartier, thus producing stronger young.

The best time of year to catch a glimpse of the Lincoln’s sparrow in New Mexico is during spring and fall migration. The Lincoln’s sparrow is mainly solitary but during migration, will form small mixed flocks with other birds in search of food. This sparrow prefers mountainous regions in the west near a water source.

I usually see the Lincoln’s sparrow only in the spring and fall scooting on the ground near my bird bath in my Albuquerque backyard. The Lincoln’s sparrows’ diet includes beetles, moths, aphids, flies and some seeds. It mainly scratches on the ground uncovering insects and seeds, but will also glean insects from shrubs and low branches. This inconspicuous sparrow rarely strays far from dense cover.

Now is the time of year to grab your binoculars to get a close up view of the attractive and elusive Lincoln’s sparrow.

Mary Schmauss is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Albuquerque. A lifelong birder and author of “For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to your Backyard.”

 

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