Increases in Harris’s Sparrow Reports in Idaho Highlight the Benefits of ebird

by Bryce W. Robinson

Immature Harris's Sparrow- Zonotrichia querula. 9X11" Prismacolor on bristol board

Immature Harris’s Sparrow- Zonotrichia querula. 9X11″ Prismacolor on bristol board. Illustration copyright Bryce W. Robinson

This winter, I’ve personally found five Harris’s Sparrows in the Great Basin. These sightings have been supplemented with about the same number by folks in my birding circle, anecdotally suggesting higher than average reports for Harris’s Sparrows. My friend Jay Carlisle posed the question; Is it a matter of a good breeding year for Harris’s Sparrow and an increased widespread juvenile distribution, or an increase in birding effort and ebird reporting? His conversation with a friend gave him additional anecdotal information that there were higher than average reports for Montana as well.

Obviously these questions are difficult to answer. What the presence of increased Harris’s Sparrow detections illustrates is the importance for birder’s to report their sightings to ebird and state records committees. This way we will be able to more fully trust these resources for historic distributions of any given species.

After reviewing Idaho’s past records of Harris’s Sparrow in ebird, it became apparent that this year stood out. You can review frequency charts on ebird for Idaho here.

But, it is important to consider that there are more participants in ebird as the years progress. What we will be able to see, if the birding effort continues for years to come, is how this winter compares to future years. With ebird, each year we will add to the data set, and incrementally increase the accuracy of range maps for species across the world.

This years Harris’s Sparrow numbers haven’t taught me much about the bird’s place in Idaho, but they have illustrated the benefits and need for filing ebird reports whenever I go birding.