The Brewer’s Sparrow

December 6, 2014

The Brewer’s Sparrow is a common western United States species breeding from extreme western North Dakota and west to south eastern Alaska and then south to New Mexico. Now, you are wondering, how does Mount Auburn figure into this scenario?  Well, it was 141 years ago on December 15, 1873 that this little sparrow that Pete Dunne has dubbed “the sparrow of understatement” was collected on what is now known as Willow Pond.

Normally you would find this sparrow in dry and desert habitats, not much like Watertown, Massachusetts. The bird was collected in 1873 by William Stone, a friend of William Brewster. Mr. Stone found it perched in an apple tree near the border of a little pond at what was then his property that bordered the Cemetery.  In those days ornithologists would shoot birds for their own collections. When this bird was shot it landed in a pile of rubbish, where Mr. Stone looked for it for some time. He was about to give up the search when he happened to see the tip of its tail projecting from a crevice between two stones. Upon investigation of the specimen it was determined to be the first confirmed documentation of Brewer’s Sparrow for New England and it remains as the only record for the state of Massachusetts.  This accompanying photograph by Jeremiah Trimble of a Brewer’s Sparrow this past May on Monhegan Island in Maine represents just the second record in 141 years for New England.

Incidentally, the Brewer’s Sparrow was named after Thomas Mayo Brewer who was a famous ornithologist. Brewer collaborated with Spencer F. Baird and Robert Ridgway to produce the famous classic, A History of North American Birds, to which Brewer contributed the life histories that comprise two-thirds of the text. He died in Boston, January 23, 1880, and is buried at Mount Auburn on Yarrow Path. The actual specimen of the December 15, 1873 Brewer’s Sparrow is in the collection of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

About the Author: Bob Stymeist

Bob Stymeist is Bird Observer's Bird Sightings Compiler and a regular bird walk leader for the Friends of Mount Auburn. View all posts by Bob Stymeist →

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