Birds of Seabrook Island

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ANECDOTES

  Sharp-tailed Sparrows
 
 

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  Order Passeriformes
   Suborder Passeres - Oscines (Song Birds)
      Parvorder Passerida (Superfamily Passeroidea)
         Nine-primaried Oscines
            Family Emberizidae - New World Sparrows, Towhees, Juncos

  Passerines are generally smaller than non-passerines. They have a perching foot with three toes directed forward and the one backward with locking tendons to facilitate perching when their tendons are flexed. All passerines scratch by bringing the foot over the wing. Incubation ranges from 11 -21 days. Young hatch blind with little or no down and spend 10-15 days or so in the nest - development is rapid and parents provide care beyond fledging.
Oscines are passerines with complex syringeal musculature used to produce varied vocalizations. 
Passeroids include the Nine-primaried Oscines, pipits, Old World sparrows, and weavers.
Nine-primaried Oscines include New World warblers, icterids (New World blackbirds), emberizines (buntings), tanagers, cardinalines (cardinals), and fringillines (finches).
Emberizines are primarily New World seed-eaters with a conical bill and dull, streaked plumage. They belong to our nine-primaried assemblage of families. When they forage on the ground, they are able to scratch using both legs at once ("hopping" to clear leaves or debris to reach food). They have loud songs that aid in their location and identification.
Short-tailed Sparrows  (Ammodramus). This genus has 9 species, 7 reaching the United States. They are best identified during the breeding season when males sing from exposed perches. They forage on the ground in dense grass and are only seen if flushed, perching momentarily then diving back into dense cover. They are silent when flushed. They typically do not flock. They have relatively flat heads, large bills, and short tails. They are slightly smaller than Savannah Sparrows but have a short tail and appear chunky. Their songs are wheezy or whispering.
     
     
 
Sharp-tailed Sparrows, Ammodramus spp
 
      There are two similar species of sharp-tailed sparrows ("sharpies") - Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sarrow and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. These were, until recently, considered to be a single species. I have caught both species in mist nets in New England and have seen Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows at several locations in our area but not on Seabrook.
   Both species have a patterned head with a buffy line above their eye and a relatively long bill for a sparrow. Both nest in grassy marshes and are found in low brushy vegetation near water in winter. They should be on Seabrook in the winter, especially around the estuaries.
Learning the songs would help but I suspect they are quiet in winter.
  NOTES:
   Most of the lists do not separate the two species:
   Edisto - winter.
   Hilton Head - uncommon winter visitor (species not separated). Cape Romain - occasional/absent/common/common (species not separated).
   ACE - occasional/absent/occasional/occasional (species?).
The Christmas Bird Counts contains a number of unidentified sharpies...
   CBC: ACE 2 ,3, 2, 0, 1, 1, 0, 0; Charleston 6, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 9, 0;
            St Helena/Fripp x, x, x, x, x, x, 1, 0; Sun City/Okatie 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 12, 10, 11;
            Litchfield/Pawley's 0, 2, 0, 0, 0, 4, 0, 0.
       
     Sharpies are not easy to distinguish, even in the hand. The following table provides a comparison that might help:
 
Trait Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Juvenile bright orange-buff, few streaks dull, pale - dense streaking
Adult - flying darker overall brighter overall
Adult - perched well-defined white belly
malar and breast wash similar
short bill
soft gray streaks on orangish breast
grayish streaks on flanks
poorly defined white belly
orange amalr brighter than breast
long bill
distinct dark streaks on light breast
blackish streaks on flanks
   
  Skip to Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow Skip to Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow  
       
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