Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)
By Rhiannon Thunell
There are few birds that I am excited to see in the spring as the warblers, but one of those birds is the Lincoln’s Sparrow. For some reason, I have always loved this sparrow above all the other sparrows that can be seen in Indiana. There is something about the softness of their buffy colors and just how cute they get when they fluff up their feathers that makes me happy every time I see one in the field. They are also generally difficult to find, which just makes finding one even more special.
I used to think that the Lincoln’s Sparrow must have been named after Abraham Lincoln, since he is the most well-known person to have that name. But it wasn’t! The Lincoln’s Sparrow was named by John James Audubon after his friend Thomas Lincoln, who shot one of the birds for Audubon when they were traveling in Nova Scotia in 1833. Interestingly, Thomas Lincoln was the son of Benjamin Lincoln, a Revolutionary War general who was given land in Maine for serving in the war. Audubon did not originally name it the Lincoln’s Sparrow however – he named it the Lincoln’s Pinewood-finch. Back then sparrows, buntings, grosbeaks, cardinals, and finches were all thought to belong to a huge family of finches.
The Lincoln’s Sparrow does not nest in Indiana but passes through the state only during spring and fall migrations. I have seen them in many parts of Indiana, including in tiny city parks. They nest in much of Canada, part of Alaska, and in some of the western states. They are ground nesters but unlike some ground nesters, they do build a nest and hide it under vegetation for protection. They winter in parts of the southern United States and Mexico. They have three known subspecies.
Next time you are out during migration season suffering from warbler neck, give yourself a break and take the time to scan the ground for movement. You just might be lucky enough to spot one of these special little birds.