Bad Photos of Ugly Birds, Part I

I ran a weekly bird survey during the summers of 2001 through 2007 at the Voice of America Park in West Chester, Butler County, Ohio. The grassland birds that breed annually and reliably at the VOA are Savannah Sparrow, Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark. Sedge Wrens are irregular, occasional nesters/visitors, usually arriving at the site in early July. However, they haven't been found at the park (to my knowledge) since 2005.

Henslow's Sparrows bred at the VOA from 2002 through 2007, seemingly skipped 2008, but returned sometime in the summer of 2009. Kelly Riccetti photographed adult Henslow's Sparrows at the VOA recently during a trip she chronicled on her blog.

During my surveys, I occasionally found hatch-year Henslow's Sparrows. Here is a "digiscoped" photo of one taken on July 25, 2004:

Before long, this youngster will develop an adult-like plumage, and will be basically "adult" in appearance to us field birders. A bander could age the bird, however.

Here is a photo of a hatch-year Henslow's Sparrow taken on July 11, 2004, two weeks prior to the bird in the above photo:

Until they molt, hatch-year Henslow's Sparrows lack the double malar stripe and streaked breast of the adult, and are generally "buffier" and plainer in appearance. Sometimes, with good views you can see the yellow gape at the corners of the bill on hatch-year birds. If you're lucky, you'll find hatch-year birds being attended to by adults, as were the two birds in the above photos.

Adult Henslow's Sparrows are generally easy to identify. Here's another digiscoped photo of an adult taken on July 11, 2004:

This bird is rather worn, and by mid-July, most Henslow's Sparrows are sporting clearly worn-out feathers: bleached, abraded, and frayed. On July 25, 2004, a friend and I had the good luck to see an adult Henslow's Sparrow in the midst of molting. By itself, this would have been a very confusing bird. But on this day, it was with other obviously adult Henslow's Sparrows, and the hatch-year bird in the photo from July 25 was tagging along as well. Here are two views of an adult Henslow's Sparrow during its molt:

The fresh scapulars, coverts, tertials, wing and tail feathers, and the bright eye ring are really evident on this individual.


  1. Gosh....your photos are so nice!! Mine were just record shots. I look forward to reading details about the survey. Six years is a long time! I enjoyed reading about the hatch-year birds and the molting adult.

    Today I saw the male Bobolinks further along in their molt. I heard 3 Henslow's Sparrows just off the path in the middle....and one just off the path at the beginning. They were not flying or perching, just making that lovely little cricket sound (was there from 3:30 - 5:30). Saw about 6 Willow Flycatchers (new for me!).

  2. Very interesting commentary and photos. I especially enjoy the 2nd to last shot - for some reason he looks particularly "clean", even though in the middle of molting. I look forward to more posts (found you from Kelly's blog).

  3. Kelly, Heather, thank you for your comments. The photos were all "digiscoped" so they're apt to look a little odd. The new feathers, though, do look particularly "clean" compared to the older, worn feathers.


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