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Nature’s identification lessons never end

May 21, 2011

There are sparrows and there are sparrows. If one was to examine in detail all the forms and color variations of birds we lump into the sparrow category, at least 32 potential types can be found in North America alone. For us Iowans, the number is much smaller coming in at about twelve or so. On this list are sparrows called Grasshopper, Eastern Vesper, Eastern Lark, Tree, Eastern Chipping, Field, Harris's, White-Crowned, White-Throated, Eastern Fox, Henslow's, Savannah and Song.

Today's photo is of a FOX SPARROW taken at this scribes feeder during the winter. Rusty red tail feathers, wings are the color of a fox, hence its common name. The critter also has numerous little triangular chest spots. To add to the difficulty of identification, some taxonomists have divided Fox Sparrows into four sub-groups: Red, Slate-colored, Thick-billed and Sooty.

To speak of sparrow identification as difficult might be very true ... until one learns the specific characteristics that make them different. At first glance, it is easy to just call them LBJ's. This stands for Little Brown Jobs. Looking for particular bill shapes, leg color, bill color, feather streaks or spotting patterns all help to sort them out. It can be frustrating or fun, the choice is ours. I'll choose the fun side of the ledger.

Article Photos

Fox sparrows and other sparrow type birds will be one focus of a public presentation coming up on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Fisher Community Center. Polk County Conservation Board employee Joe Boyles will present a power point show featuring sparrow and other birds with great identification tips to use to sort out the various types. Fox Sparrows are now in the Canadian boreal forests and tundra after having migrated through the Midwest from southeastern USA wintering grounds.

Thursday's Central Iowa Ornithologists meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m. is open to anyone with even a tiny bit of investigative curiosity about LBJ's. Joe Boyles will help inform all who attend. Put this date and time on your calendar. Nature's identification lessons never end.


Consider these facts: Our outdoor heritage of wild places and all the species that live there has many aspects that may largely go unappreciated by some folks. We value wild places for their beauty, solitude, the natural sounds of wind in the trees and birds in the air. We like green leaves and shady spots to relax. All of this is part of the treasure given to us. People from all walks of life who spend any time outdoors cannot help but admire the natural world in its seasonal progression from year to year.

Many of the wide open spaces of America that are public lands came about because of hunting groups and the financial commitments they continue to make for the cause. Hunters are not the only ones but they are the bedrock by which wildlife conservation got its start. In the mid 1930s, hunting and sporting organizations formed a coalition that caused the passage by Congress of a cornerstone for funding of conservation efforts. It is known as the Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R for short) and was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937.

The formal name for this legislation is Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. Sportsmen agreed to an excise tax system on firearms, ammunition and related products used in game hunting. A match of those funds on a federal 75 to state 25 ratio to be used for land projects for all kinds of wildlife. If habitat is provided and adequately managed, nature can and will find ways for animals and plants to flourish.

Collectively, hunters spend more than $10 billion annually on their sports. Others that do not hunt also spend great sums on camping, nature observation and a host of other outdoor activities. In fact in some locations, the percentage of non hunter users in the wildlife conservation areas can be 75 to 95 percent of a year's worth of outdoor interests. Anyway you slice it, it was primarily the hunter's dollars that enabled all to use the area and enjoy it. The hunters paid and keep paying the bill while a host of additional users get in free, so to speak. Do you see the imbalance here? There are a wide variety of products used in the outdoors like tents, camping gear, hiking boots and clothing, binoculars, cameras for which no portion of the expenditure is directed to the wild places where they are used.


Hunters donated in another way last year. Meat from deer taken during the past seasons resulted in donations to Iowa's HUSH program. HUSH stands for Help Us Stop Hunger. Participating lockers in Iowa processed 6,320 deer which translated into more than 282,500 pounds of meat, the equivalent of 1.1 million quarter pound venison servings. The 2010-11 season was the eighth year for the program. If all eight years are added together, more than 44,500 deer have been donated for over 8.2 million servings. How is this program paid for? Hunters pay a $1 fee on each deer license purchased. Those fees are then used to compensate the locker operators for each animal butchered. It works well.


If you go now, you can still make the road trip to Des Moines to attend the State DNR Sale at the State Fairgrounds. The Learning Center building is the spot where 600 firearms, lots of bows, traps and other excess or confiscated equipment will go to auction. The doors opened at 7 a.m. and the sale began at 9 a.m. Many of these items were the result of game warden arrests and court convictions of violators of Iowa fish and game laws. Check it out.


For your funny bone: Bear bells provide an element of safety for hikers in grizzly country. The tricky part is getting the bells attached to the bears.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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