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My Life’s Birds: #119

September 3, 2008
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January 16, 1994 – Christian Co, Mo – There are certain groups of birds that always seem to intimidate new birders. Birds that take up pages and pages of similar looking illustrations in a field guide, differentiated only by subtle field marks. Birds that require the knowledge that only time and experience can provide. We all know what these birds are without much prompting. Perhaps we’re still coming to grips with their identification, a pursuit that can take a lifetime and always seems like some sort of super power when mastered. Perhaps we’re coming to grips with some of them, no longer breaking into cold sweats when faced with a teeming mudflat, or a swirling landfill, or a dense weedy field.

But even among those swear-inducing groups, there are birds that are easier. Stepping stones along the path of the highly skilled birder. Birds that by virtue of their size or regularity or field marks are less intimidating and, for that reason, appreciated. For me, the Fox Sparrow is one of those birds. For starters, it’s huge, nearly the length of a Cardinal and even bulkier. Larger even than the Zonotrichia sparrows we’d see so often in the winter in Missouri, and so subtly and beautifully colored in rufous, slate, and white, that the first look of one, hopping down from the fence row to take it’s place on the millet feeder in the morning snow, is unforgettable.

The Fox Sparrow remains one of my favorite sparrows, even now as I have achieved some modicum of comfort with the Emberizids. It may lack originality to take the largest and arguable the flashiest of the sparrows, but for a group that by and large consists of shades of streaky brown and beige, it’s nice to see some flash once in a while.

photo from wikipedia

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One Comment
  1. John permalink
    September 3, 2008 6:24 pm

    Fox sparrow is one of my favorites, too. When I was starting out birding, I was afraid that I would have trouble identifying one, since it is streaked and song sparrows are streaked. Then when I actually saw one, I realized that I needn’t have worried.

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