By Sue Drown
Birds display every color of the rainbow. They are art on the wing. Perhaps it’s not entirely fair, but sparrows got limited to the browns, rusts, and quiet tones of the avian color palette. But, if ever there were a sparrow who makes real artistry out of its limited choices, it’s the lovely Lincoln’s Sparrow. When they return to Prescott, dressed in their fresh autumn plumage, they are drop-dead beautiful.
Lincoln’s Sparrows seem delicate, although they are just a tad smaller and lighter-weight than the familiar Song Sparrow — a very close relative in the avian family tree. Like most sparrows, Lincoln’s prefer to be in cover such as grasses or shrubs, but they are also curious. And a bit feisty. They will often pop out if you hold still for a bit. Their body language seems half afraid and half ready to fight. In the summer months, Lincoln’s Sparrows are found throughout Canada and in the Rocky Mountains, where they prefer to sing their upbeat, jumbled songs to the background music of mountain streams. Prescott is on the north edge of their winter range, and we can find them in any brushy spot, such as Watson Woods, this time of year. Listen for a husky “pik” note coming from the brush, then hold still until the Lincoln’s pops up to see who has stopped near its winter home.
Luckily, identifying a Lincoln’s Sparrow can prove fairly easy, at least as sparrows go. A soft buffy base color across its breast shows as a warm flush under the finest of brown streaking. The same buffy color forms the edge of the face. The tail is expressive, the bill is sharp, and that streaking over all — uniquely fine and refined. The face pattern, warm reddish wing tones, and breast spot might make you think of Song Sparrow, but the entire impression is finer-crafted and delicate.
Yes, birds are art. The Lincoln’s Sparrow proves that this holds true even for those “little brown jobs,” our wintering sparrows.
Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.
Sue Drown is a certified bird nerd and is seldom seen without her binoculars. She has thrived since moving to Arizona’s bird-rich region eight years ago.