Ever feel the adrenaline rush when you spot that special brightly colored migrant passing through on a beautiful Fall morning? Get another rush by refocusing your binoculars from the trees to the ground and take a second look at those sparrows. Frequently dismissed as “just another Song Sparrow,” the elusive Lincoln's Sparrow is migrating through Skagit County now.
This is the time of year when the usually solitary Lincoln's Sparrow can be observed among a “crew” of sparrows. This bird will prompt the “ah wait a minute” response from the binocular clad observer who mentally reviews sparrow field marks and proclaims, “there's a Lincoln's Sparrow too.” It's fun to spot the odd inconspicuous bird. However, during a fall field trip last year along Padilla Bay the group scored high numbers of Lincoln's together.
Here's what to look for when you take that sparrow second look. The Lincoln's Sparrow is slightly smaller than the Song Sparrow. It appears lighter gray overall. Their crown has a central gray stripe with brown borders and is often observed raised. The bill is slender and the lower mandible is usually lighter. There is a pale eye-ring with a brown streak extending behind the eye. Their throat is white with thin black specks. The breast is buffy brownish-gray with thin black streaks. The belly is solid white and their tail is shorter. File those field marks away for quick retrieval, but if you're lucky to hear this bird sing, there is no mistaking the differences in their songs.
So where are their breeding grounds and wintering hangouts? They nest in bogs, wet meadows and riparian shrubs of Alaska and Canada. The nest is constructed by the female and is usually a shallow depression on the ground made up of moss and grasses. Because the nest is at ground level the female will mouse-like scurry away from the nest and perform a broken wing display if disturbed. The clutch consists of 3-5 brown speckled, pale green eggs. The incubation and nestling period is up to 25 days. Occasionally, the monogamous pair will produce two broods. In the breeding season these sparrows consume insects and spiders. During migration and on their winter sites, they will switch to small seeds too. Although rare, these sparrows can then be observed near seed feeders. They overwinter in Southern California, Mexico and Central America to Honduras.