Sorting Sparrows: Clay-colored Sparrow

Photo of Clay-colored Sparrow

The vast majority of Clay-colored Sparrows spend their summers in shrubby grasslands in central Canada and the central northern United States. But every year, birders spot a small number of Clay-colored Sparrows in suitable habitat right here in New England. Visiting the Kennebunk Plains -- a managed grassland habitat kept open by periodic burning -- is perhaps your best chance to observe one summering in Maine.* Thanks to several local birders who shared their sightings via eBird, I was able to locate and photograph this bird last week.

Clay-colored Sparrows sing buzzy, insect-like songs that can be challenging to pick out, especially if the bird isn't close. Here's a sample:

While I did hear some buzzy phrases shortly after arriving at the previously reported spot, much of the time the bird gave only simple chip notes. At one point, the sparrow perched in a short Pin Cherry and preened, allowing me to note many of the field marks of this species: gray nape, pale lores, white (central) and brown (median) crown stripes, dark malar stripe, unmarked chest, and relatively long, notched tail. To learn more about Clay-colored Sparrows, visit All About Birds.

Photo of Clay-colored Sparrow

*I'm not sure if Clay-colored Sparrows have bred successfully at the Kennebunk Plains, but the site is known for a variety of grassland specialists who do, like Savannah, Field, Vesper, and Grasshopper Sparrows, Upland Sandpiper, Eastern Meadowlark and Bobolink. 

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