Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2002-

Common name:

Clay-colored Sparrow

Scientific name: Spizella pallida
Date: April 27, 2002
Time: 10:00--10:20 A.M.
Length of time observed: About 15-20 minutes
Number: 0ne
Age: adult
Sex: undetermined
Location: West side of Provo Airport Dike adjacent to Utah Lake
County: Utah
Latilong: About:  40o 15' N 111o41' W
Elevation: Whatever the Provo airport is
Distance to bird: 30-40 feet and observing from the dike looking down toward bird.
Optical equipment: 8x40 Zeis binoculars and 15-25x Bausch and Lomb Discoverer spotting scope
Weather: Overcast and sporadic sprinkling of rain
Light Conditions: Adequate eventhough it was cloudy
Detailed description of bird: The bird I am describing is a Clay-colored Sparrow.  It helped that it was foraging with three Brewer's, one Vesper, one Lincoln's, two-three song and four-five white-crowned sparrows for comparison.
     The bird was sparrow-sized and about 5 inches long.  It was about the same size as the Brewer's, but noticeably smaller than both the vesper and white-crowned sparrows.  There were at least five notable differences from the Brewer's sparrow with which, I think, it could most easily be confused.  First, the breast and belly was a much cleaner white underneath (no streaking or stripes) than the Brewer's which was more gray-brown in appearance.  Second, the head was darker due to dark stripes
very close together with a distinct central cream-colored median stripe.  The head had no red markings on it at all. This was discernable from my location above and looking down at the bird as it foraged, sometimes with its anterior part of the body toward me.  Third, in comparison with the Brewer's sparrow, there was a much more distinct, white eye line above the eye that contrasted with a noticeably darker cheek patch which I would consider a fourth difference.  Fifth, (and this was the clencher), the nape was gray--not with fine, brown streaks like on the Brewer's.  It had a malar stripe, but I couldn't determine that it was a whole lot darker than the Brewer's.  The back was dark brown with black stripes, darkish tail with no white; and the tail was not as long as the Brewer's sparrow.
     So, in summary, this bird was identified as a Clay-colored because it
was distinctly darker above and whiter below than the Brewer's; the
contrast was quite noticeable.  Also, the crown was darker with the whitish
median stripe and the nape was gray.  There aren't any other sparrows
it could be confused with.
Song or call & method of delivery: Didn't hear it call.
Behavior: Foraged on the ground with other sparrows eating seeds from weedy plants next to the edge of cattails near Utah Lake.
Habitat: Weedy edge next to heavy cover associated with a lacustrine environment.
Similar species and
how were they eliminated:
Brewer's Sparrow.  Note the narrative above.
Previous experience with this & similar species: No previous experience with this species.  A lot of experience with the other sparrows with which it was associating.
References consulted: National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America, Peterson's Fieldguide to Western Birds, and the new Sibley Guide to Birds, which incidently, was the most help due to the better head illustration.
Description from: From memory
Observer: Merrill Webb
Observer's address: 1063 East 400 North,  Orem, Utah  84097
Observer's e-mail address:  (General Public)
Other observers who independently identified
this bird:
Tuula Rose found it the next day; Milton Moody and two or three others found it a day after that.  I located it again on Tuesday, three days later at the same location.
Date prepared: April 30, 2002
Additional material: none
  I had seen the bird briefly on the 25th of April and thought that it might be this species.  Went back two days later and had longer and better looks.  Verified by other observers as well.