February Bird Group Meeting
Bird Group February meeting.
The group got together at Dana Jonak’s home on Wednesday, the 11th, to discuss a couple of ‘Little Brown Jobs’, the Grasshopper Sparrow and Henslow’s Sparrow, both members of the Ammodramus family. These are both birds which are difficult to spot in the wild, except in mating season when they may sing from perches on tall grass or shrubs.
The Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) is a common and widespread glassland species. Its total numbers have declined radically over the past 50 years (along with habitat), but it is still a species of least concern. In Ontario it can mostly be found in isolated pockets S of the shield. (The Carden Alvar in Spring is a good spot.) There are large number of localized subspecies. The Northern residents migrate to the Southern US in the Winter.
It eats variety of insects in the Summer, mostly seeds in Winter. It does like grasshoppers, and is known for shaking a grasshopper until the legs fly off, before eating it.
It has a buffy face and breast, with a large conical bill and flat head. It is a short, plum; bird with a sparsely feathered short, natter tail. Except for the dark eyes, the face pattern appears to blend into cryptic uniformity; its fray back with red collar is usually evident. The juveniles are striped on the lower parts, and are easily confused with Henslow’s Sparrow adults. Generally detected by song in Spring, which song is a flat ‘chip-buzzzzzzz’.
Henslow’s Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) was named by Audobon in honour of his friend John Stevens Henslow (who was a teacher of Charles Darwin). Its total numbers have declined markedly, and it is now found in isolated pockets of suitable habitat (esp. tall grass prairie) in a narrow band running from the mid-West across below the Great Lakes to New England. In Winter it migrates to a similar band acoss the SE US. In Ontario no breeding pairs were found in the second Atlas, and only about 50 pairs in the first Atlas. It can be found in areas with Grasshopper and Savannah Sparrows. In breeding season it can best be found when perched on a grassy stem or shrub to sing. It’s song is a cryptic two-syllable ‘ts-ipp’.
In appearance it is similarly shaped to Grasshopper’s, but with a streaky chest and flanks, a variably greenish/olive head, and a reddish neck and body. an even heavier, bulbous bill, and a tail which appears shorter than Grasshopper’s in flight. Usually it just skulks along the ground rather than taking flight when disturbed. The facial pattern and pinkish bill do show up.