Sunday, May 31, 2015

Vesper Sparrow

On 27 May 2015, John Holden and I were greeted by this singing Vesper Sparrow. “Vesper” probably comes from an archaic meaning, referring to evening. John Burrows (1837-1921), American naturalist and conservationist, wrote that this sparrow sings “into the twilight of vespers, after most other birds have become still” (quoted in Jones and Comely 2002). Burroughs, as did Thoreau, probably knew this species as the Bay-winged Warbler. A close look at the bird in the grass below clearly shows this sparrow’s bay shoulders.
Vesper Sparrows were once fairly common birds across its range. Today populations, at least in the East, are declining as fallow fields either return to forest or become urbanized. Further west, this species depends on uncultivated lands near row crops or open rangeland.
Vesper Sparrows usually dust-bathe. In fact, Jones and Comely (2002) give only one citation for this sparrow’s bathfing in water. Ron Dudley blogged and shared photos quite similar to ours. His photos also show a Vesper Sparrow with its head touching the water. His, however, appears to be wetting the top of the head. Ours appears to have the whole side of the head under water—we wondered how the bird did not drown! Do you suppose the bird held its breath?
Finally our Vesper Sparrow took notice of us and suddenly took flight straight up out of the water. One of the dangers of bird baths is supposed to be that, unlike when they are dry, wet birds are more vulnerable to predators. Our wet Vesper Sparrow seemed to have no difficulty taking wing.

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