Scientific Name: Passerculus sandwichensis
Pictures: (click for larger images)
A pair of Savannah Sparrows on a fence at the intramural field. 9/17/05, around 10:20am.
Not the best picture, but you can see what their head striped look like from straight-on. 9/17/05 Photo from the first time I saw these guys, on the intramural field, 9/1/05 around 9:30am. You can just see the yellow eyestripe. They were doing a lot of foraging in the grass, looking for food. 9/17/05 But they were pretty skittish and even with a zoom lens I couldn't get very close to them before they relocated. Thanks to Bobby Walsh for an assist on this photo. 9/17/05 Savannah Sparrow illustration.
-Photos by Jason Finley.
-Illustration by Robert C. Stebbins from "Birds of the Campus" (1947) by Dr. Loye Miller.
Description: Small. About 5" in length (beak to tail), a little smaller than a House Sparrow. Brown, with light and dark streaks all over and a distinctive yellow eye stripe. Sexes appear similar.
Commonality/Seasonality: Rare, and generally Winter only.
Location: They prefer open country, so around here that means they're only likely to be seen around our big grassy lawns. The only place I've seen them on campus for sure is the intramural field. The National Cemetery, between Veteran, Wilshire, and Sepulveda, may also be a good bet.
Notes: I learned a good lesson from these little dudes. While prowling the intramural field in search of Killdeer, I spotted some small birds picking around in the grass. I figured they were probbaly just House Finches or House Sparrows, nothing new. But I snapped a few distant pictures anyway. Only looking at the photos later did I realize that the birds I'd seen were different from the usual suspects! New birds for the list! And I'd only gotten one or two photos! I emailed them to Bobby Walsh, he IDed them as Savannah Sparrows, and we returned to the field to look for them again. We were lucky enough to see them again, and get a few more pictures.
The lesson, of course, was that if you see somthing small and brown, give it some close attention. It may be some type of finch or sparrow that you haven't learned to easily ID yet!
Some variety of these quiet winter visitors can be found through November to March in such weed patches along the south axis as may have escaped the energies of the gardening staff. You will have to search for them, however.
-Miller, Loye. "Birds of the Campus, University of California, Los Angeles," from University of California Syllabus Series, No. 300. Text by Loye Miller, illustrations by Robert C. Stebbins. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1947.