Living Bird Magazine
Cassin's SparrowPeucaea cassinii
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
A grayish-brown sparrow with a hint of an eyering, the Cassin’s Sparrow makes up for in musical performance what it lacks in bright colors. Breeding males sing a whistled melody while fluttering in midair, 20 feet high or more, above their territories. One naturalist wrote that the song had an “indescribable sweetness and pathos.” These fairly large sparrows live in the dry grasslands of the southern Great Plains, southwestern U.S., and northern Mexico, often moving around to take temporary advantage of good conditions after rainfall.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Cassin’s Sparrows are furtive and can be hard to find as they forage at ground level in wide open spaces—so your best bet is to look and listen for them during spring and into summer, when males sing their distinctive song and display in the sky. According to some birders, the far-carrying song is sometimes audible even when driving at highway speeds with windows rolled up! At other times of year, a walk through brushy grasslands may flush a few Cassin’s, although they are just as likely to scamper away unseen.
- Chingolo de Cassin (Spanish)
- Bruant de Cassin (French)
- Cool Facts
- Samuel Washington Woodhouse, a surgeon and natural historian, collected the first Cassin’s Sparrow described to science, a male, in April 1851 near San Antonio, Texas. He named it after his friend John Cassin, the curator of birds at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia.
- In his display flight, the male Cassin's Sparrow flies straight up and then floats downward on fixed wings, singing the entire time. This kind of display is unusual in sparrows but fairly common in larks, and is often called "skylarking."
- Cassin's Sparrow has an unusual molt cycle. The juvenile molts twice in the first 6 months of life whereas the adult has a long body molt lasting several months, then a much quicker complete molt in fall.