One of the best places in Ontario to hear and see
the uncommon Vesper Sparrow is the Carden Alvar. The name Vesper
comes from its habit of singing well into the evening twilight hours
when its song sounds the sweetest.
IDENTIFICATION: The Vesper Sparrow’s white
outer tail feathers flash junco-like in flight, but can be hard to
see on perched birds. The species is then identified by its bold
whitish eye-ring and rufous shoulder patch (lesser coverts) at the
bend of the wing, sometimes covered by other feathers.
SONG: Its song usually begins with two
clear unhurried whistles followed by faster trills and twitters. The
Vesper sings mainly in the early morning and late afternoon from an
open perch on a post, wire, shrub or treetop.
HABITAT: The Vesper Sparrow breeds in dry
short grass fields with scattered shrubs and trees used for singing
and escape cover. Of all Carden’s nesting sparrows, it prefers large
fields with the shortest grass, often with patches of bare ground.
Its habitat is enhanced by cattle grazing, which helps keep grasses
short and sparse.
HABITS: Watch and listen for Vespers along
quiet dirt backroads. They spend much of their time on or near the
ground and like to take dust baths. Flushed birds normally fly to an
exposed perch where they can be viewed.
STATUS: Historically the Vesper Sparrow
was mainly a prairie bird that increased in the East when pioneers
cleared forests for farming. Like most other grassland birds, it is
declining in Ontario due to more intensive farming, earlier haying,
fewer hedgerows, less pastureland, marginal farmland reverting to
forest, and urbanization. The Carden Alvar remains a stronghold in
Ontario for this disappearing sparrow.
BEST PLACE: It’s a delight listening to
Vesper Sparrows sing at nightfall after many other birds go silent.
A scenic spot to hear a Vesper at sunset is from the parking lot
near the viewing blind on Wylie Road, overlooking a broad expanse of
Carden Alvar Provincial Park.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I thank Michel Gosselin
for proofing and Jean Iron for the photo.