VESPER SPARROW – (Pooecetes gramineus)
The Vesper Sparrow back, wing and long tail are brown with beige edges and streaks. It has a chestnut patch on the shoulders, and a white eye ring. The throat and breast are beige with brown streaks, and the belly is beige. It also has a brown spot on the breast, but not as prominent as in the Song Sparrow. It has white outer tail feathers, which can only be seen while in flight. The conical bill is grey, and the legs are pink. It measures approximately 15 cm (6 in.) long. Both sexes are similar.
NAME: The English name ‘Sparrow’ derives from Anglo-Saxon ‘Spearwa’, which means ‘flutterer’, and it has been applied to many small birds (Choate). This sparrow species is named ‘Vesper’ due to its habit of singing at dusk (‘Vesper’ in Latin means ‘dusk’, ‘evening’), while perched on a post or a treetop. That name was given to the bird apparently because it was singing at the same time as the Catholic ‘Vespers’. The Latin name ‘Pooecetes’ comes from ancient Greek and means ‘to dwell in the grass’, due to its habit of foraging on the ground, and ‘gramineus’ refers to the seed and grain diet of the bird.
The habitat of the vesper sparrow consists of fields and grasslands, where it forages on the ground for insects and other invertebrates, and seeds. It builds its nest on the ground in a well-sheltered location. It also needs higher vegetation for singing, or post or poles.
Although the vesper sparrow breeds on PEI, this bird species has only been observed occasionally so far on the island, for all seasons except winter. In the Maritimes this sparrow is increasingly associated with blueberry fields. Its breeding range covers the Canadian provinces where it can find suitable habitat, so mainly in the central Plains. This range extends to the central part of the USA as well. Vesper sparrows will migrate in small groups at night to the southern USA and Mexico.
Conservation: in the Maritimes the vesper sparrow has experienced a decrease in numbers in its traditional habitat, but an increase in wild blueberry fields, which seems to match its needs in terms of suitable habitat. One subspecies in BC is listed as ‘endangered’ by COWEWIC, due to habitat loss from modern farm practices and urbanization. Other breeding areas in the USA have also experienced population declines but not enough yet to warrant a different classification than ‘least concern’ by the IUCN.