Saturday, April 19, 2014

Belding's Savannah Sparrow

Belding's Savannah Sparrow
Belding's Savannah Sparrow. March 30, 2014. San Elijo Lagoon, California. Greg Gillson
Belding's Savannah Sparrows are resident in coastal southern California salt marshes. One thing you may notice is the bird is very dark, rather than dusty-brown as are Savannah Sparrows in many other areas of North America (there are about 17 poorly-differentiated subspecies of this grassland species, dividable into about 4 groups). In fact, those breast streaks are almost blackish.

The eyebrow shows some yellow in the supraloral area. The bill is fairly long for the species. One other mark to note is that these birds apparently have short head feathers and don't give a partially raised crested look that other Savannah Sparrows occasionally do.

The song is not different from other races. It is high-pitched starting with three short notes, and a drawn out buzzy insect-like trill with a sudden low drop at the end: tsit, tsit, tsit, tseeeeee-dzay. At a distance (or as my hearing deteriorates), only the last transition to the lower buzzier note is audible, "eee-dzay."

Belding's Savannah Sparrow
Belding's Savannah Sparrow.
For comparison, below is a photo from western Oregon. It is the Brook's Savannah Sparrow, very similar to the Nevada Savannah Sparrow that breeds in the Great Basin east of the Oregon Cascades. When these and other northern breeding forms winter together in southern California salt marshes, the differences between them and Belding's are obvious.

Note especially the pale gray-brown overall color, thin paler breast streaking. And look at that! partially raised crown feathers.

Brook's Savannah Sparrow
Brook's Savannah Sparrow. June 9, 2011. Sherwood, Oregon. Greg Gillson.