I recently mentioned that our long spell of hot, dry weather brought several birds species that usually avoid humans into our yard (Modoc County CA), the western wood-pewee being one.
Vesper sparrows (Pooecetes gramineus) normally inhabit grasslands, fields and other open habitats. This large sparrow can usually be found in our distant fields during the summer. This year vesper sparrows are in the pastures surrounding our yard. They perch on the fences near the house – uncharacteristic behavior. Most likely the water is attracting vesper sparrows closer to humans.
The vesper sparrow is a grayish-brown bird. Its pale underside and darker back are finely streaked. The prominent white eye ring and white outer tail feathers (obvious in flight) are good field markings, as is the moderately long tail. Vesper sparrows have a dark ear patch bordered in white on the lower edge. Polytypic, vesper sparrows have four slightly different sub-species with very small variations in appearance – too subtle for my eye.
Vesper sparrows summer and breed in northern North America while wintering in the southern portion of North America and Central America. It eats the seeds of grasses, weeds and grain crops, supplemented in the breeding season by insects. A ground forager, vesper sparrows can often be seen scratching along the ground. When disturbed, they will fly into trees but generally avoid thickets.
The name vesper sparrow probably comes from its melodious song, sung at twilight. Then again, vesper sparrows also sing at dawn, but why be picky! The song of one region is consistent from bird to bird, yet there are differences in vesper sparrow songs from region to region. This indicates that the young probably learn to sing from adults.
The genus, Pooecetes, contains only one member. Through detailed DNA analysis it has been determined that its closest relative appears to be the lark sparrow.
I am happy to have these sparrows close to the house this year. Now if it would only rain. . . .