Bachman's Sparrow

Peucaea aestivalis

  • Version: 3.1 — Published July 17, 2018
  • John B. Dunning, Peter Pyle, and Michael A. Patten

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Figure 1. Geographic range of Bachman's Sparrow.
Bachman's Sparrow (P. a. aestivalis).

Fairly large, round-tailed sparrow, with brownish-gray upperparts tinged with reddish streaks and buffy underparts with whitish belly. More easily identified by song than by plumage. Sexes similar.

© Howard West , Florida , United States , 20 February 2017

Bachman's Sparrow is an enigmatic resident of mature pine woods and open forest habitats of the southeastern United States. Early naturalists and writers in the South celebrated the species for its simple but pleasant song, which was among the most familiar sounds associated with the piney woods of the Deep South. The sparrow itself, however, is secretive and shy, so little formal study was done on this species prior to the mid-1980s.

Bachman's Sparrow was originally described in 1834 by John James Audubon who collected a series of this species near Charleston, South Carolina. Audubon named the species after John Bachman, a Charleston clergyman with whom he stayed while collecting southern birds. John Bachman had previously discovered the species when he collected the first specimens at Parker's Ferry, a town about 55 kilometers (35 miles) west of Charleston (1).

Historically most common in mature, open pine forests, for many years this species was called the Pine-woods Sparrow. Most such mature forest has now been logged, however, so over much of its range this sparrow often occurs in open habitats such as clearcuts and utility rights-of-way, where the grassy conditions that it prefers still exist. The Bachman's Sparrow has fluctuated greatly in range and population size during the last century, and the species is currently rare in many areas where it was formerly common. It is considered a species of management concern by the government agencies charged with overseeing the vast areas of southern pine land. The Bachman's Sparrow occupies restored pine lands managed for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Dryobates borealis) and therefore provides land managers with added benefit from their management activities—conservation of two declining species is achieved for the price of one (2). In part, this explains the renewed research interest in the species (e.g., 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

Fundamental aspects of natural history have been provided by a few intensive studies of breeding in the Bachman’s Sparrow (e.g., 10, 11, 12, 4). More recently, Winiarski et al. (13) examined home range and habitat characteristics. Borror provided early and comprehensive analysis of Bachman's Sparrow song (14, 15), while Ali and Anderson (16) examined the role of song repertoire in the territoriality of breeding males. A comparative study of the members of the genus Aimophila (17), which then included the Bachman's Sparrow, improved our understanding of these species. Much of the recent work has been done at the Wade Tract, a protected reserve of old-growth Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) forest in southwestern Georgia, by James Cox, Clark Jones, and colleagues. These studies include some of the first studies of overwintering ecology (18, 7), when Bachman's Sparrow is particularly elusive. Overwintering ecology has subsequently been explored in several areas of the species’ range (19, 20, 21).

Recommended Citation

Dunning, J. B., Jr., P. Pyle, and M. A. Patten (2018). Bachman's Sparrow (Peucaea aestivalis), version 3.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.