Savannah Sparrow

The highlight of the Christmas Bird Count day for me was a small, rather plain, brown-streaked bird – a Savannah Sparrow, perched on a white wooden fence in clear, soft, late-morning sunlight, surrounded by tall brown grass and weeds. A neat pattern of thin, dark brown streaks marked its white breast.

A plump little sparrow with dark-brown back and wings; a short, notched tail; and a small yellow spot just over the eye, it perched with other sparrows on the fence in a rough, overgrown patch of weeds and grass behind a fire station, not far from the intersection of two busy urban roads.

Though I’ve seen Savannah Sparrows many times before, this was the best and clearest view I’ve ever enjoyed – and for the first time I fully appreciated its beauty and had the time to watch for several minutes. By the time we left this area, I felt as I had really come to know a Savannah Sparrow for the first time. Whenever I see one in the future, it’s this sighting I’ll remember.

The pattern of fine, clean streaks on the snow-white breast defined the Savannah Sparrow for me. A Song Sparrow perched beside it offered a good contrast – the dark brown streaks on its breast and sides looked more coarse and crowded, as if they had been painted with a thicker, less patient brush, and the central spot in the Song Sparrow’s breast was much larger and darker. The Song Sparrow also showed more russet and gray coloring, especially around the face, a longer tail – and it vigorously switched its tail in a characteristic way. The Savannah Sparrow did not do this, so it seemed more calm and serene in behavior.

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