By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader
It was Valentine’s Day, and my wife and I had just begun a walk around the neighborhood to count birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count. We didn’t even make it out of the yard. No, unfortunately, it is not what you are thinking…
I saw a bird among a flock of sparrows that didn’t register in my brain. “What the *&@%is that!”, I thought. It looked like a White-throated Sparrow, but it wasn’t quite right. Was it some rare species from out west? A genetic mutant? I had to find out. I camped out near our bird feeder with my camera and let the birds settle back down. In a short while the bird came to the feeder for seed, and I took lots of pictures. I still didn’t know what it was, so I posted photos of it for birders in PA and DE to see and send me their comments.
Jeffrey Gordon, a professional birder in Delaware responded to my inquiry, suggesting that it was most likely a hybrid between a White-throated Sparrow and a Dark-eyed Junco. One question that remained for him…did the tail have white outer edges like a Junco? I went back through the 100 or so photos I took of this bird and found one that showed the tail.
This clinched the identification of a White-throated Sparrow X Dark-eyed Junco hybrid. Try to picture this bird’s parents on the breeding grounds. What were they thinking???
Apparently, Juncos and White-throated Sparrows have taken a liking to one another before. Hybrids between these species have been documented many times in the past, but are still quite rare. There is even a drawing of one on page 494 of The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley. I found the drawing below which is spot-on for the hybrid I found in my yard on Valentine’s Day.