On 16 January 2016, Gene Bauer called me to say that, for the past few days, a strange sparrow was visiting his bird feeders. Erika and I visited that same afternoon, and the sparrow hopped into view. Gene and I both found it difficult to identify this sparrow. For one thing, we both quickly appreciated how much habitat plays in bird identification. After deliberating, both Gene and I concluded we had a Swamp Sparrow. Pete Dunne‘squote came to both our minds, “The difference between a beginning birder and an experienced one is that beginning birders have misidentified very few birds. Experienced birders have misidentified thousands."
The next noon, with wind chills approaching -30 degrees F, I took these photos. The picture quality is a bit poor since the photos are through a closed window. Opening the window did not help, probably due to the extreme difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures. In any event, that was one cold bird.
Swamp Sparrows breed in marshes, bogs and swamps. In winter they inhabit the southeastern states, Mexico, and the Pacific Coast of North America. Usually in the midwest only north to southern Iowa. This winter Minnesota has about a half-dozen records. This sparrow is secretive and seldom visit bird feeders. Bruce Fall, who confirmed our identification, wrote, "I've never had one in my yard even in migration… Swamp Sparrows are generally rare in the south half of the state in winter, but in most winters from one or a few are reported. I know of a couple that I have found here in the Twin Cities, but they are not often cooperative for relocating them.”