If Florida’s Panhandle is Florida’s Forgotten Coast, then sparrows may be forgotten gems of the bird kingdom. I find them to be both interesting and beautiful. For me this Bachman’s Sparrow is a signature of mature Long-leaf Pine forests. I love to walk in their realm. On this February day, my group had not heard one male utter a note of its wispy, chattering call.
I stopped off an unnamed road just north of Highway 98 when I spied the perfect combination of habitat features. Bachman’s Sparrows thrive in open pine savannas with big (80 yr. plus) pines with a lush grass understory. A few shrubs thrown in the mix is fine, but in places like this, where the US Forest Service manages the area as nature once did, with frequent low intensity fires, this 5.5 inch fugitive finds refuge.
Once widespread in the Southeast U.S., Florida, Louisiana and Georgia now have the largest breeding populations according to Breeding Bird Count data analysis. Bachman’s Sparrows are short-distance migrants which winter in the southern Gulf Coast states. This morning an inquisitive male responded by popping up on a Longleaf Pine branch. From this fine perch it slowly surveyed its surroundings and our group before uttering an almost inaudible soft song, one quite different than its normal pattern.
Bachman’s Sparrows are one of the few species endemic (unique or restricted in range) to the U.S. Once widespread, the range of Long-leaf Pine forests has suffered a 95% loss. For us this was a rare day with a rare bird in rare habitat. We savored the moment until distracted by another rare one – a calling Red-cockaded Woodpecker…