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Thursday, December 09, 2021

Friday's Foto


Henslow's Sparrow, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY
This will be an extended "Friday's Foto" posting, given the rarity of this species in Brooklyn and state-wide. A recent visitor to historic Green-Wood Cemetery marked a first for that spot. The previous record for Brooklyn was 48 years ago.

The Henslow's Sparrow is probably one of North America's loveliest sparrow with its olive-green head, orange lores, scaley coverts with purple highlights, rusty red primaries, buffy breast with fine, dark streaks and bright, white eyering. Previously classified in the genus Ammodramus with other grassland species, in 2018 it was reclassified into "centronyx" with the Baird's Sparrow. The name means "spurred claw" which refers to these birds' long hind toes. John James Audubon gave this bird its common name for his friend, John Stevens Henslow, a botanist, a minister, and a teacher of Charles Darwin.

This specie's decreasing population in New York State, as well as, its skulking behavior make it very difficult to observe. In their preferred habitat of thick, weedy grasslands and wetlands, this bird forages alone, usually not in flocks of Henslow's or other sparrows. They spend their time walking in dense grass while foraging and, if flushed, reluctantly fly low a short distance then drop back down into the vegetation. More often then not, they will flee perceived threats by running. In addition, James D. Rising, author of "A Guide to the Identification and Natural History of the Sparrows of the United States and Canada", notes of this bird's behavior, "Migrants are reluctant to flush, and can be approached closely." Their diet consists primarily of insects and seeds. Assessed in 2020 by the IUCN, they rate their global status as "Least Concern". That is up from "Near Threatened" in 2016. However, populations in New York State have been declining, prompting the NYSDEC to list it as "Threatened".

The Henslow's Sparrow's breeding range includes New York, southern Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They overwinter from the Gulf Coast of Texas east into the northern two-thirds of Florida and north into North Carolina. There are infrequent records north into the Midwest and Middle Atlantic states.

This sparrow has one of the simplest song of any North American species. Its high, thin "tze-lick" was described by David Sibley as a "feeble hiccup." Judge for yourself. Be sure to turn up the volume:

Finally, here's a video I shot in Green-Wood Cemetery on Tuesday, December 7, 2021:

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