Nebraska Ornithologists' Union


Date of this Version



Thomas E. Labedz, “Cassin’s Sparrow in Garden County,” from Nebraska Bird Review (December 1986) 54(4).


Copyright 1986 Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union. Used by permission.


On 21 May 1986, while searching for evidence of breeding birds in atlas block 2G04 near Lisco, Garden County, Nebraska, I discovered a Cassin’s Sparrow (Aimophila cassinii). This sighting was at 5:20 PM Mountain Daylight Time, along the county road in the northeast corner of Section 11. I was driving slowly down the road and stopped to observe an odd sparrow. I nearly drove past, thinking it was another Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), which I had heard and seen all day. The sparrow, which appeared larger than a Grasshopper Sparrow, was perched on the low wire of a barbed wire fence along the road. In the few moments before the bird disappeared into the grass I observed that it was plain-breasted, had dark “whiskers” and tail, a grayish back, pinkish-yellow legs, and yellow at the bend of the wing. As it flew away into the grass it sang a short song. After I consulted my field guide I presumed this bird to be a Cassin’s Sparrow, but I wanted a second and better look. “Pishing,” owl imitations, squeaking, etc., failed to return the bird to view. Remembering the short song, I played Peterson’s field tapes in an attempt to match the song. When I played the recording of a Cassin’s Sparrow the bird flew overhead (about 10 feet high) and sang a matching song to the tape’s. I did this several times and the Cassin’s .Sparrow sat on the wire fence between the tape-playings, scolding me with sharp, short, rapid, chipping notes. During these sittings I was able to see all field marks with a 22x spotting scope at a range of 30 to 40 feet: the lightly streaked crown, flat profile of the head, darkish line through the eye, with light above the eye. Because the bird was singing and behaving defensively to another song of the same species I presume this bird to have been a territorial male, which possibly bred this year.