Thursday 7 December 2023

White-crowned Sparrow at Rosudgeon - First record for Cornwall

 EXCITING news broke on Saturday 2nd December 2023 when a White-crowned Sparrow was reported on Facebook.  Photos soon appeared on the popular news channels and details emerged that it was coming to seed in a private garden. Birders assembled in a Rosudgeon residential close on Sunday morning and were rewarded with good views as it eventually perched up in a hedge and on a rooftop.

White-crowned Sparrow has a wide distribution across North America and has three distinct forms: West Taiga, East Taiga and Interior West.  Pacific populations differ to the Taiga/Interior group in calls, song, plumage details and even ground or low bush breeding.  The Cornwall bird was soon identified as belonging to the East Taiga group, ie. from Eastern Canada.  The pinkish bill colour and black lores confirm this, while the striking black and white striped head confirm this bird as an adult.

How did it arrive in Rosudgeon? A good question which no one will ever know for sure.  But, given the high number of displaced American vagrants this autumn, it surely would have been involved with that movement back in October.  Vagrant sparrows are known to hitch a ride on trans-Atlantic ships as well.  It could have done this and landed at Southampton, Felixstowe or Liverpool and made its way south west?  The species is migratory and follows the normal north to south migration path. The Cornish bird is most likely following its instinct.

There are only two other American sparrows on the Cornish list: White-throated Sparrow at Boscastle in May 2010 and three Dark-eyed Junco's: Hayle 26th Nov 2008,  Illogan May 2007, Lizard May 1983.  Thus, any American sparrow is extremely rare in Cornwall (and Scilly).

Adult White-crowned Sparrow, Rosudgeon, Cornwall, Dec 2023. Pics by Steve Rogers.

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