Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Nelson’s Sparrow

For the last week or so, Nelson’s Sparrows have been reported from the 180th Street Marsh in nearby Dakota County. Never having photographed one, nor seen one in Minnesota, Erika and I ventured out to the swamp on Tuesday. We had no problem finding four birds along the edge of the marsh. Photographing them was another matter. These photos show the ochre eye-stripes and ochre, faintly streaked breasts. The top photo shows the gray sides to the face and the lower photo shows the broad, gray crown. Most of all, these photos show the habitat in which this sparrow skulks.
Nelson’s Sparrows have a confusing systematic history. Until recently, they were known as Sharp-tailed Sparrows. Three different populations were recognized, one breeding in the upper midwest, a second along Hudson Bay, and a third along the Atlantic coast of the northeastern United States. Because of differences in plumage, song, size, behavior, and genetics, Sharp-tailed Sparrows from the the Atlantic coast were split off and called Saltmarsh Sparrows (Shriver et al. 2011). Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows overlap along the northern New England Coast. Nelson’s Sparrows are named for Edward Nelson, who directed the Biological Survey from 1916 to 1927. 

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