Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published Aug. 21, 2013 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

Henslow's Sparrow

We've been where and when they're supposed to be in Florida, but have yet to spot one.


There are Henslow’s Sparrows in Florida. I know this because I read it on the internet. And I believe everything I read on the internet. Understand, Jewel and I have never seen a Henslow Sparrow in Florida, even though we have gone looking for them where they are supposed to be on their wintering grounds.

Twice we have participated in bird banding projects at Kissimmee Prairie State Park where we were assured that Henslow’s Sparrows were most certain to be caught in the mist nets, along with Common Yellowthroats, Bachman’s Sparrows, House Wrens, the more common northern Grasshopper Sparrows wintering there, and hopefully, some of the very rare and endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, the target bird of the banding projects. ┬áBoth times we were there to participate all of these species except the Henslow’s Sparrow were captured for banding, including the nearly extinct Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. http://fl.audubon.org/florida-grasshopper-sparrow.

We have also searched for Henslow’s on several occasions at Tosohatchee State Reserve, where they are also reported as a regular wintering species, similarly without luck. Admittedly, we have not gone looking for them at Apalachicola National Forest, where they are reported to be “relatively abundant” in the winter. http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=241034. I suppose the emphasis is on the “relatively” part of that description. I suspect that any number more than one qualifies as “abundant.”

Henslow’s Sparrows formerly were readily found in appropriate grassland habitats in New Jersey and Delaware, and there was a particular spot in Delaware where we could always take field trip participants in the spring and be certain to find them. No more, though. Not for many years.

But there is good news, for in Pennsylvania and other nearby states where vast areas of the landscape was devastated in the practice of strip mining for coal, much of the moon-like terrain that was left after the coal was gone, has now been reclaimed and returned to expansive fields of grass-lands, exactly the habitat that Henslow’s Sparrows prefer. http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr191/Asilomar/pdfs/504-510.pdf.

One such reclaimed area, recently becoming well regarded by birders travelling on I-80 in northern and western Pennsylvania, often on their way to or from the “Biggest Week in American Birding” http://stlucieaudubon.org/hartBeat/hb2013/hb130712BigWeek.html, is known simply as “The Piney Tract” http://www.senecarocksaudubon.org/pineytract.html. It is an internationally recognized globally Important Bird Area (IBA) http://web4.audubon.org/bird/iba/ primarily because of the presence of the rapidly declining Henslow’s Sparrow. Jewel and I could not resist the siren call of such a difficult bird to find and the promise of success in such a well-regarded location, not to mention the opportunity to observe a truly successful environmental reclamation project.

We present here photos and a video recording of the Henslow’s Sparrow from the Piney Tract. While the bird will never be confused with such elegant songsters as some of the thrushes, finches or even the Mockingbird, he certainly should get bonus points for enthusiasm. In the photos we show both the side and front views so that you can appreciate the unusual olive neck and back of the head, as well as the fine streaking on the breast, the white throat, and the stripe on the head seen from the front.

We will keep searching for Henslow’s Sparrows in Florida, but are not particularly sorry that Florida does not have any stripped coal mines that need reclaiming. That does not mean that Florida is devoid of environmental projects to undertake. We are just not sure which ones, if any, would benefit Henslow’s Sparrows. But, Lord knows, there are more than enough other species that need help in Florida. Like the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. For sure!

Click to see the video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRl94lrQHDw 

Henslow's Sparrow

Click photos for larger versions