McGILL BIRD OBSERVATORY

PHOTO LIBRARY

Savannah Sparrow / Bruant des prés (Passerculus sandwichensis)

  NOTE: This species account has been moved to Piranga to allow for improved comparison among examples.  
The updated profile is located at:  http://www.natureinstruct.org/piranga/view.php/Canada/31CE00C71528322F
 

QUICK TIPS:
1) Look at the tail - uniformly narrow and pointed rectrices OR contrastingly fresh and broad central rectrices are indicative of HY/SY, while uniformly broad and more rounded rectrices are typical of AHY/ASY, but beware that some individuals may replace their tail early, so this is less reliable for AHY/ASY

2) Check the outer primary coverts - they are relatively narrow and pointed and brown on HY/SY birds, and relatively broad and rounded and dark brown on AHY/ASY birds

Note that, as is the case for many sparrows, a large percentage of intermediates cannot be reliably aged in spring.

Species account updated January 2009

Ageing and sexing guidelines:

January - July:

ASY - U
Broad and rounded dark brown primary coverts, broad and fairly truncate rectrices.

SY - U
Relatively narrow dull brown primary coverts, narrow and tapered rectrices.

-

July - December:

AHY - U
Broad and rounded dark brown primary coverts, broad and fairly truncate rectrices.
HY - U
Relatively narrow dull brown primary coverts, narrow and tapered rectrices.
 

Ageing and sexing details:
 

JAN - JUL:  after-second-year unknown

Body plumage provides no useful information about age or sex of Savannah Sparrows, though occasionally the condition of wing feathers can be visible on a perched bird.  Sex can be determined only during the breeding season by brood patch or cloacal protuberance.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2006


 Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007
 


Primary coverts are dark brown on ASY birds, relatively uniform in colour and wear with the rest of the wing.  They are usually broad and rounded, but differences between age classes are rather subtle in this species, so shape must be interpreted with caution.


 
Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2006


Tail shape is a good indicator of age for Savannah Sparrows, as SY birds have narrow and very tapered outer rectrices, while ASY birds have broader and relatively truncate rectrices. Note, however, that SY birds may occasionally replace their entire tail, and therefore broad and truncate rectrices should not be used as the only criterion for ageing a bird ASY.


 Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

JAN - JUL:  second-year unknown

Body plumage provides no useful information about age or sex, although sometimes the condition of the wing feathers can be seen on a perched bird (as in the photo below).  Sex can be determined only during the breeding season by brood patch or cloacal protuberance.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007


 Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2008


Primary coverts are dull brown on SY birds, and usually look relatively narrow, tapered, and abraded.  The primary coverts are uniform in colour and wear with the primaries and secondaries, and these juvenile feathers as a block contrast with the darker and fresher formative greater coverts.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007


 
 Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007


 Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2008


Tail shape is a good indicator of age for Savannah Sparrows, as SY birds usually have narrow and very tapered outer rectrices, while ASY birds have broader and relatively truncate rectrices.  Note that in the first example below, the bird has replaced several of its central rectrices (r1 to r3 on both sides) while retaining the outermost juvenile rectrices (r4 to r6 on either side), while in the second photo only r1 has been replaced, and sometimes all rectrices are juvenile.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007


 Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

JUL - DEC:  after-hatch-year unknown

Body plumage provides no useful information about age or sex.  Sex can be determined only during the breeding season by brood patch or cloacal protuberance. Note that there is considerable variation in Savannah Sparrow plumage, with the example below being a rather dark specimen.


 
Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), September 2007


Primary coverts are relatively dark brown on AHY birds, and relatively broad and rounded; note that even on after-hatch-year birds, the primary coverts are somewhat lighter in colour than the greater coverts.


 
 Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), September 2007


Tail shape is a good indicator of age for Savannah Sparrows, as HY birds have narrow and very tapered outer rectrices, while AHY birds have broader and relatively truncate rectrices.


 Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), September 2007

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

JUL - DEC:  hatch-year unknown

Body plumage provides no useful information about age, and sex cannot be determined for HY birds.


Photo by Seabrooke Leckie, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2006


 
 Photo by James Junda, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), September 2008


Primary coverts are dull brown on SY birds, and usually look relatively narrow and tapered.


Photo by Seabrooke Leckie, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2006


Photo by James Junda, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), September 2008


Tail shape is a good indicator of age for Savannah Sparrows, as HY birds have narrow and very tapered outer rectrices, while AHY birds have broader and relatively truncate rectrices.


Photo by Seabrooke Leckie, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2006


 Photo by James Junda, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), September 2008

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

2002- The Migration Research Foundation Inc.