Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a little bird, conceived in the wild, and dedicated to the proposition that all birds are created equal.
None of that is true, of course, as this week’s featured creature, the Lincoln’s sparrow, wasn’t brought forth from anywhere. It was here a long, long time before Europeans sailed across the Atlantic.
Lincoln’s sparrow wasn’t named after our great 16th president. It was named after Thomas Lincoln. Not the father of Abraham Lincoln, but Thomas Lincoln, a friend of the great ornithologist, naturalist and artist John James Audubon. Actually, he was a friend of Audubon’s son.
However, Lincoln did accompany Audubon on an 1834 expedition where they discovered the bird. So that was like, what, nine score and seven years ago?
Audubon first called the bird “Tom’s Finch.” Lincoln shot a bird that was unknown to the men in the expedition. The only one of that species to be collected.
Nowadays, ornithologists capture birds and band them for research purposes. Heck, some even get tiny radio transmitters.
But way back in the day, birds were killed so they could be studied.
In winter, these birds are quite abundant in southwest Oklahoma. I see them just about everywhere at the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, which is no surprise as the habitat there is preferred by these birds in winter.
One thing that stands out on this bird is the well-outlined, buffy sub-moustachial stripe (see photo) that leads down to a wash of the same color across the chest. With many Lincoln’s sparrows, the wash extends down the sides as well. This wash, along with the fine stripes, gives the appearance of a bird wearing a beige pinstripe suit, especially when viewed from the side.
They have large gray eyebrows with brown and black stripes on the crowns. They also have a gray stripe atop the center of the head.
The Lincoln’s sparrow is a winter visitor over much of Oklahoma — pretty much everywhere but the Panhandle. They also winter over much of Texas, the southeast, the southwest and most of Mexico. They breed in much of the Rocky Mountains and most of Canada, eh!
Lincoln’s sparrows like cover, so thickets and overgrown fields are an ideal place to find them. They also like woodland edges, and I have seen them in roadside habitats. In secrecy, they skulk around in search of food.
During warmer months, Lincoln’s sparrows mostly eat a variety of insects such as flies, beetles, moths, caterpillars, ants and some spiders. In winter, they eat a variety of seeds.
They will visit backyard feeders to eat seed that’s been spilled or scattered on the ground, but they are an uncommon visitor. They visit my feeding stations the most in late winter and during spring migration.
Odds and ends
• The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that female Lincoln’s sparrows are more attracted to males who sing to them on cold mornings. Ornithologists believe this may be due to the fact that males that brave the cold may make better mates.
Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RANDY’S NATURAL WORLD