Late Spring 2009 Photo Quiz
This bird looks and feels like a small passerine. The bill is short and triangular in shape, which indicates that we're looking at a seed-eating passerine. Even though the bird is partially hidden behind a branch we can see that the supercillium (eyebrow) is orange. There aren't too many small passerines with conical bills and orange supercilliums. In fact, there are only 2 that occur in Illinois, namely LeConte's and Nelson's Sparrows, both of which are regular migrants through the state.
LeConte's Sparrows are paler overall than Nelson's Sparrows; our bird looks rather dark but we should clinch the identification with tried and true field marks. The shape and color of the median crown stripe differs between the two species, being narrow and white on LeConte's and broad and gray on Nelson's. Unfortunately the crown of our quiz bird is hidden by a branch so we'll have to look for other field marks. One excellent mark that is visible on our quiz bird is the lack of streaking on the nape, typical of Nelson's. LeConte's Sparrows have napes with fine dark streaking. We can also see that the back streaks are narrow and white. The back streaks on LeConte's are broader and buffy in color. This Nelson's Sparrow was photographed by Kanae Hirabayashi on May 25, 2007 at Montrose Point in Chicago. Compare this bird with the LeConte's Sparrow in the Late Spring 2008 Photo Quiz
Answer: Nelson's Sparrow