Thursday, December 22, 2016

If It's a Common Bird, Make Sure It Has Attitude: Song Sparrow at Yachats, Oregon

I haven't covered that many sparrows on this blog so far. I'm still pretty new at this game, and have limited confidence when it comes to telling them apart. It doesn't help that the Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) has 24 recognized subspecies! But I posted one today because it had some serious attitude. And comes from a highly varied background.
We were driving along the Oregon coast near Yachats when we got out for a view of the waves (which were pretty intense today due to an approaching storm). I was looking far out to sea, but this little sparrow was on the bush right in front of me singing its heart out, and pretty much daring me to take pictures.
The Song Sparrows are a widespread North American species, with a range that extends from southern Alaska and Canada into northern Mexico. There is an additional isolated population in central Mexico that is 900 miles from any other Song Sparrows.

The many subspecies and regional differences are emblematic of how evolution proceeds. The birds are common and widespread, but encounter different environments at the margins of their range. These different habitats favor different adaptations, such as size or coloration, or different food preferences. If populations become isolated, they may become differentiated enough to be classified as separate species.

If you've ever wondered about how Darwin's 13 species of Galapagos finches came about, or the 56 species (living and extinct) of Honeycreepers of Hawai'i, then these very common North American birds provide some insight. Variation is the key to evolutionary change.

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