Cassin’s Sparrow

Peucaea cassinii
Range Map

The Cassin’s Sparrow is a year-round resident in southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, most of western and central Texas, and much of northern Mexico. In spring and summer, some will migrate north into eastern Colorado, and western Kansas and Nebraska. They prefer arid brushy grasslands. In the breeding season, the males perform an aerial display called “Skylarking”, where they fly to great heights and float down on stiffened wings, singing all the while.

Since its discovery in 1852, scientists have shuffled this bird through many genus assignments. Zonotrichia, Peucaea, Aimophila (or what some call the botterii complex), and finally in 2010, back to Peucaea, based on genetic studies.

There are no recognised subspecies of Cassin’s Sparrow (i.e. they are monotypic).

The population of these birds varies in some regions from year to year. Researchers believe the absence or abundance of rainfall affects the seasonal population.

I first met Cassin’s Sparrows in Arizona. Later, in Texas, I met a single bird while stopped along the highway to photograph a Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher I saw while speeding down the road towards Harlingen. The sparrow’s plaintiff song gave it away, and I captured the bird on a wire (apologies to Leonard Cohen). My best meeting with these birds happened the day I left Texas and was exploring Bitter Lake NWR outside of Roswell (New Mexico).

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