Naturalist Newsletter of January 7, 2008
issued from Yerba Buena Clinic just outside
Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 1740 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 17° 11' 27"N, LONG. -92° 53' 35"W
North American birders know that sparrows can be lots of fun because some species can be tricky to identify, some are very secretive, some are migratory, some are restricted to very narrow habitats and some are of limited distribution. In a typical state like Kentucky about 17 sparrow species can be looked for.
By "sparrow" I mean members of certain genera of the Emberizid subfamily of the big Emberizid Family -- which does NOT include House Sparrows or English Sparrows, which are actually weaver finches belonging to an entirely different Old-World family.
Actually, when you view the Emberizid Family in its entirety you see that it's not always perfectly clear what's a sparrow and what's not. Mexico's Juncos, grassquits, brushfinches, seedfinches, seedeaters and ground-sparrows come awfully close to being sparrows.
At http://www.backyardnature.net/chiapas/birds-ch.htm I list eight just-plain sparrows for upland Chiapas:
PERMANENT RESIDENT THROUGHOUT UPLANDS:
1) Rusty Sparrow
2) Rufous-collard (Andean) Sparrow
PERMANENT RESIDENT, UPPER SLOPES OF CENTRAL DEPRESSION:
3) Botteri's Sparrow
4) Olive Sparrow
PERMANENT RESIDENT ON GULF SLOPE:
5) Chipping Sparrow
MIGRANT, WINTER VISITOR THROUGHOUT:
6) Grasshopper Sparrow
7) Lincoln's Sparrow
At Yerba Buena the main sparrow is the Rusty, haunting weeds in the abandoned garden down below, which now is being converted to blackberry monoculture. This species specializes in scrubby second growth and forest edges, and is distributed from northern Mexico to Costa Rica. It's a big species, 17cm long compared to the Song Sparrow's 14 cm. It looks a little like a female House Sparrow, and the juveniles with their heavily streaked breasts can look like Song Sparrows.
At woody edges of the invaders' cornfields often you see loose flocks of chink-calling Rufous-collard or Andean Sparrows wandering from place to place. They're distributed from southern Mexico to Tierra del Fuego and the white, black-bordered throats and rusty collar of the male make it a handsome, easy-to-identify bird.
Earlier, overwintering Lincoln's Sparrows lived in the abandoned garden down below but blackberry activities seem to have driven them off.