Day 24 of 100 days of Blogging

The secretive Nelson’s Sparrow is this weeks Sparrow of the Week. It is the fourth to be highlighted in our weekly series featuring one of the sparrows that breed in the PQSPB checklist region. Only 9 more sparrows to go as we head toward the 2017 centennial!

Sparrow of the Week #4

10 Things about the Nelson’s Sparrow (Ammodramus nelson)

French: Bruant nelson  Family: Emberizidae

Did you know?

#1. Description
The Nelson’s is a  small sparrow with brown streaked upperparts. Breast and sides are pale brown with pale streaks; throat, belly, and undertail coverts are white. Head has gray-brown crown and nape, orange-brown face, and gray cheeks. Tail is short and pointed. Pink-gray legs and feet.

#2. What’s in a name?
Previously this bird and the Saltmarsh Sparrow were considered to be the same species and were known as the Sharp-tailed sparrow; it was briefly known as Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrow. They differ in genetics, songs, and subtle plumage characters. Nelson’s is the only species of the two that breeds away from the Atlantic coast.

#3. Why is it called Nelson’s Sparrow?
This species is named after Edward William Nelson, an American naturalist who conducted field surveys for the United States Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Biological Survey in Alaska, Death Valley, and Mexico. Nelson was Chief of the Bureau from 1916 to 1927.

#4.Preferred Habitat

This sparrow favours marshy habit in the interior of the continent; coastal birds are found in brackish marshes.

#5. Diet
Its preferred diet consists of insects, spiders, snails and seeds. It forages on the ground in dense grass or pond edges.

#6. Typical Behaviours
The Nelson’s Sparrow is very secretive. While foraging it runs in short spurts, walks or slowly hops as it inspects its surrounding. If not foraging it might run and stop a short intervals and then climb on to vegetation to inspect its surroundings. The male is not territorial so does not defend any breeding females (who tend to the nest and young alone). When alarmed or flushed from its nest, the bird has been observed to crouch low and run with its head lowered.

#7. Distribution
Nelson’s Sparrows are relatively common and numbers increased between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. However, there has been a noted loss of breeding and winter habit resulting from the destruction of coastal marshland and the drainage of interior grassland.  

#8. Breeding
At least three quarters of the Nelson’s Sparrow population breeds in Canada. 

#9. Pick-up Lines
The Nelson’s Sparrow doesn’t defend an actual territory, it just moves around the marsh and sings in hopes of attracting a female, or two…

Play the audio file to hear the “tschyyy-drrr” song of the Nelson’s Sparrow. 

#8. Migration
It winters along the south-eastern Atlantic Coast, primarily from North Carolina to Florida, but also along the Gulf Coast states to southern Texas.

#10. Popular Culture meets the Nelson’s Sparrow
This bird was featured in the title of an episode called “Nelson’s Sparrow”of the CBS-TV crime drama series, Criminal Minds  The episode’s serial killer enjoys stalking these sparrows because of their habit of sitting still or running away on foot when confronted by a predator.