March 2019 Bird of the Month

Bachman’s Sparrow    Peucaea aestivalis
Singing his heart out! © Becky Loftus.
Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area Canon PowerShot SX60 HS, 3.8-247.0mm, ISO 400, 226.62mm,1/1000, ƒ/6.3

Where did this Bird get its name? Bachman’s Sparrow is a small, very secretive bird that usually stays in the underbrush searching for and eating seeds, beetles, and other insects. But, come spring, the male is often up on a branch or, in this case a bush, singing his heart out with such a melodious song (often associated with piney woods in the Deep South) to defend his territory and attract a mate. This photograph is particularly stunning, in that the sun highlights the bird and the beautiful Rusty Lyonia, all in artistic beauty and balance.

The Bachman’s Sparrow inhabits mature piney flatwoods and open forests, often with a wire-grass understory, and is endemic to the southeastern U.S. However, it is considered “near threatened” by the ICUN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) because of clear cutting of 80% of the pinewoods that once covered Florida, for home construction, agriculture or other purposes. Changes in fire regimes in pine forests also shifted the preferred understory from wire grass to palmetto, making vast areas less suitable for the sparrow. However, good pine flatwoods with Bachman Sparrows remain at Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area and St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park.

Birds’ common names are selected for unique identifying characteristics, their sounds, or by honoring a person, and in this case, one who played a role in its discovery. A Charleston, S.C. Lutheran clergy, Dr. John Bachman, was first to identify this species west of his home when collecting specimens at Parker’s Ferry. John James Audubon, a good friend, stayed in Bachman’s home to collect birds for study and illustration. Audubon originally described the sparrow species and named it after Bachman.  Audubon also described and named the Bachman’s Warbler after him, as Bachman also first had discovered this “pretty little warbler,” now unfortunately likely extinct. Bachman’s two daughters married Audubon’s two sons.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society