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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Keep your eye out for banded Savannah Sparrows

Folks conducting Christmas Bird Counts this year have a chance to help us better understand the distribution of Savannah Sparrows.

A group of biologists are working with a heavily studied Savannah Sparrow population that breeds on Kent Island, Bowdoin College's scientific field station (Nat Wheelwright, of Bowdoin College, is the head of this effort). They band all Savannah sparrows that breed, hatch, or are found on the study site as juveniles with at least two bands; juveniles receive two bands (an aluminum USFWS band on one leg, a plastic color band on the other) and adults receive four bands (an aluminum USFWS plus a color band on one leg, two color bands on the other).

We know that the birds, both adults and first year, return each year to the study site to breed. One part of the project centers on song development, and it is clear that some of that process occurs before the young birds return to the study site for their first breeding season. It would be very useful to be able to find their wintering grounds so as to determine what effects the winter environment has on song learning in this philopatric population. However, we have no idea where this population winters (except that it is likely to be in the southeast US).

Christmas Bird Counters should be on the lookout for these banded Savannah sparrows? A simple report of their presence would be very valuable, and if the colors on each leg could be ascertained, that would be an amazing bonus. In the absence of tiny transmitters with GPS units (which may come our way eventually), the only chance of finding the wintering location of these birds is to disseminate the question and a heads-up to watch out for and notify those interested of banded birds to a community such as the CBC participants.

If you see a color-banded Savannah Sparrow during the Christmas Bird Count, or any other time during the winter, please contact

Heather Williams
Biology Department, Williams College
Williamstown, MA 01267
hwilliams AT williams DOT edu
(413) 597-3315

More information about the study is online at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'll be keeping an eye out for them Rob.

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