Monday, December 20, 2010

One for the Record Books!

Middleton Golden-crowned Sparrow

It was hop-scratching. That's what initially drew my attention to the large sparrow eating birdseed below our feeders at Eagle Optics. Foraging along with it were dozens of House Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, a few American Tree Sparrows, and one Song Sparrow. Observing the big brown sparrow without binoculars, at first I thought I was looking at a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow, but something about it seemed different – its breast was very gray. I reached for a pair of binoculars and took another look at my mystery bird. Once I got a good view of its crown, I was reasonably certain it was my first-ever Golden-crowned Sparrow. A genuine life bird, right at work!

It's just a tad off course...

However, they are occasionally found well east of their typical wintering range. How does it happen? Was it weather related? Did it associate with a mixed-flock of other southbound sparrows that migrated more easterly from the Pacific Northwest? The how's and why's will never be known, but it's fun to ponder. What is known is that an extremely rare bird (for Wisconsin) has been discovered in Middleton. One glance at WSO's records for this species made it clear just how uncommon this particular sighting is:

1. fall, 1853 -- Racine; Philo R. Hoy
2. fall, 1854 -- Racine; Philo R. Hoy
3. spring, 1856 -- Racine; Philo R. Hoy
4. April, 1858 -- Racine; Philo R. Hoy
5. May 5 to June 5, 1963 -- Bayfield; Janet L. Koslowski
6. May 15 to June 2, 1964 -- Bayfield; Janet L. Koslowski
7. May 10 to May 17, 1965 -- Bayfield; Janet L. Koslowski
8. Nov. 26, 1992 to April 18, 1993 -- Sheboygan; Roger C. Reif

Once my colleagues and I were absolutely certain of the identification of our sparrow, I posted the sighting to Facebook:

A life bird for Tom Prestby, he was the first to arrive and was able to capture several photographs of the sparrow through the window. Eventually, a few other birders came to look at the rarity – it was a lifer for them as well. Given the snowy weather we're experiencing in south-central Wisconsin, I can't imagine that this bird is going to stray too far away from a reliable source of food.

Addendum 01/04/2011:

The Golden-crowned Sparrow has not been seen since Thursday, December 30th. Along with the majority of the American Tree Sparrows, I suspect it returned to the fields adjacent to the building when the snow melted.

Golden-crowned Sparrow © 2010 Tom Prestby


  1. Mike, I saw your FB post. AWESOME lifer at work. Thanks for filling in the fun details!

  2. The records for GCSP are really interesting in Wisconsin. Two different observers, one hundred years apart, managed to find a Golden-crowned Sparrow almost annually for several years in a row.

    What's up with that?

  3. Excellent! Social media rocks for this kind of thing.

  4. Thanks again for helping me find him - beautiful bird!