March 3, 2016 Puget Sound White-crowned Sparrow range extension

Seward, Alaska

On February 15, I posted a selection of photos of the birds at my active feeder. One was a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, a normal, winter Seward species.

Or so I thought!

That particular bird caught the keen eye of Scott Shuette who forwarded the link to Steve Heinl in Ketchikan for analysis. Steve is pretty certain it is a Puget Sound WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW instead of the more usual, northern, Gambel’s subspecies.

Steve reported that the Puget Sound White-crowned Sparrows have been found increasingly in SE Alaska, nesting in small numbers in Ketchikan and found as far as Sitka, Hoonah, and Juneau. He was unaware of any other south-coastal records.

As most birders many not be aware of this expanding Puget Sound/Pacific population, there may be more than we realize.

Thanks to Scott for the heads-up, and thanks to Steve for helping me recognize it.

Look for these differences between the Puget Sound and Gambel’s:
Zonotrichia leucophrys pugetensis vs Z. l. gambelii
Overall, the Puget Sound bird is more drab and browner.
The back view is especially diagnostic.
Back stripes: plain blackish or dark brown bordered by tan vs colorful, reddish-brown bordered by paler gray or paler buff
Bill: lemon yellow, vs bright orange-yellow
Flanks and sides of chest: extensive brown wash vs clean gray
Head stripes: dull white vs bright white

Sibley’s Guide to Birds differentiates the two subgroups as Pacific including Puget Sound, and Taiga/Interior West Group. The Gambel’s is part of the West Group/Western Taiga. There is more information than you ever thought possible about the five species at Sibley’s website:

Also check this “Monterey Birds Migrant Puget Sound and Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrows” website by Don Roberson:

The next time you see a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, look again!
You may be extending the Puget Sound subspecies range!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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