"A Flutter of Sparrows"
The Clay-colored Sparrow is the most numerous low-shrub songbird of the northern prairies. It is perfectly at home there, eating the seeds of weeds and grasses. When the young are born, their diet changes dramatically to insects that dominate the food scene. Recent surveys show the Clay-colored Sparrows are declining, and most likely due to increased development, and the parasitizing Brown-headed Cowbirds . (See "No Spring Cleaning" March 28, 2008)
There is no overlap between summer and winter ranges for Clay-colored Sparrows. They are known as the "complete migrants". They winter in Mexico and spend the spring and summer in Canada and some of the northern States. This means that if we see them, in our area, it will be during migration to and from.
Once during migration, I took a trip down Old 91 and drove on some of the back roads of Beaver Dam. With the Beaver Dam Wash and the Virgin River close by, it was a great stopover for migrants. Birds were everywhere that day. I was going crazy with the numbers of different species I saw. And then, there it was. A bird I had never seen. When that happens you have to get out your bird book and start the elimination process. Not this, not that, and it couldn’t be.... But this bird looked, acted, and sounded like a Clay-colored Sparrow. It had a clear gray breast, buff cheek patch bordered above and below with black, and there was that small strip of white across the top of the head. It’s song was an unfamiliar buzz, buzz, buzz, (insect-like). So...as all excited birders do...... I called as many birders as I could to see if this bird had been spotted in the area, and could it be a Clay-colored. Yes, it had been seen, and yes, this could very well be a Clay-colored Sparrow! Wow!
When you see a flutter of Sparrows, don’t pass it off as all common Sparrows. Check it out..... that joint activity may hold a Clay-colored Sparrow. Thank you Brenda Rusnell for showing us one of those seldom seen birds. I hope you will remember to carry binoculars around your neck whenever you’re outdoors. I hope you find wonder and excitement each time you are with nature. If you have any questions about birds, or just want to talk about birds, call Marilyn Davis, 435 673-0996.