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 (Terres 1980b).
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 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 timberland. The Bachman's Sparrow occupies restored pine lands managed for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides 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 (Wood et al. 2004). In part, this explains the renewed research interest in the species (e.g., Dunning et al. 1995, Dunning et al. 2000, Plentovich et al. 1998b, Conner et al. 2002, Provencher et al. 2002b).
Fundamental aspects of natural history have been provided by a few intensive studies of the Bachman's Sparrow (e.g., Haggerty 1986, Dunning and Watts 1990, Dunning and Watts 1991, Dunning et al. 2000). Borror provided early and comprehensive analysis of Bachman's Sparrow song (Borror 1961a, Borror 1971). A comparative study of the members of the genus Aimophila (Wolf 1977), which then included the Bachman's Sparrow, improved our understanding of these species. Most aspects of natural history are in need of additional study, especially overwintering ecology, since the species is particularly elusive at that season. Recognition that overwintering Bachman's Sparrows give a distinctive call note in response to broadcast of its song suggests a way to conduct studies at this time (Cox and Jones 2004).