Sparrow Games

I have written before about birding games and challenges birders do to make a day in the field even more interesting than just observing birds. Most recently, after finding the ultra-rare Henslow’s sparrow it occurred to me there was another ultra-rare sparrow in Mecklenburg County (lark sparrow), and a very uncommon one (white-crowned sparrow). I decided to challenge myself to try and see how many species of sparrow I could see in Mecklenburg County in one day, since it is highly unlikely a lark or Henslow’s sparrow will re-occur again anytime soon.

After ticking off the Henslow’s at Latta Plantation Prairie, I reviewed my checklist to count up other sparrows I had seen while searching for the targeted bird. I ticked off song, chipping, swamp, white-throated, field, dark-eyed junco, and Eastern towhee (yes, towhees and juncos are in the sparrow group).

Next, I headed for the airport overlook area to try for the small flock of white-crowned sparrows that have wintered there this year. It took me about 30 minutes of looking before five of them just appeared in the planted berm in the center of the parking lot.

Next, a long drive to Ezzell Community Park in Mint Hill where I located the rare wintering lark sparrow. I had to canvas the area twice but finally the bird flushed right from my feet. That park is a dependable site for savannah sparrow, and I was able to easily check that one off. Fox sparrows occur there too, and with a bit of luck I was able to get one to respond to a playback of the fox sparrow alarm call from some thick underbrush. Fox sparrows are my favorite local sparrow. That’s 12 species of sparrows, a very good total for the county for the first of March.

There was likely a Lincoln’s sparrow somewhere in the county that day, but they are so scarce with no dependable location to check. Between the three-hour Henslow’s search and the other two stops, I had expended the energy needed to look for a Lincoln’s. There is a spot in Huntersville where vesper sparrows have been seen but that was far from a sure thing. I decided to take the 12 species and call it a day. Vesper sparrows will become more likely in a week or two, grasshopper sparrows will return as a breeding bird, and Lincoln’s will become more realistic into the spring. Maybe I’ll try for 13 species in a few weeks.


By: Taylor Piephoff

Avid Birder, Naturalist,
​Nature Nerd