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Bachman's Sparrow
Peucaea aestivalis
Order
PASSERIFORMES
– Family
EMBERIZIDAE
Authors: Dunning, John B.
Revisors: Dunning, John B.

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Introduction

Adult Bachman's Sparrow, Louisiana
Fig. 1. Geographic range of Bachman’s Sparrow.
Editor’s Note: Owing to recent findings, Bachmans Sparrow has been placed in the genus Peucaea. Formerly merged with Aimophila, Peucaea is now treated as a separate genus on the basis of geneticas well as morphological and vocaldata. See the 51st Supplement to the American Ornithologists Union Checklist of North American Birds for details. Future revisions of this account will reflect this change.

Bachman’s Sparrow is an enigmatic resident of mature pine woods and open habitats of the southeastern United States. Early Southern naturalists and writers celebrated the species for its simple but pleasant song, which was among the most familiar sounds associated with the piney woods of the Deep South. The sparrow itself, however, is secretive and shy, so little formal study was done on this species prior to the mid-1980s.

Bachman’s Sparrow was originally described in 1834 by John J. Audubon who collected a series of this species near Charleston, South Carolina. Audubon named the species after John Bachman, a Charleston clergyman with whom he stayed while collecting southern birds. John Bachman had previously discovered the species when he collected the first specimens at Parker’s Ferry, a town about 35 miles west of Charleston (Terres 1980).

Historically most common in mature, open pine forests, for many years this species was called the Pine Woods Sparrow. Most such mature forest has now been logged, however, so over much of its range this sparrow is now found in open habitats such as clearcuts and utility rights-of-way, where the grassy conditions that it prefers still exist. Bachman’s Sparrow has fluctuated greatly in range and population size during the last century, and is currently rare in many areas where it was formerly common. It is considered a species of management concern by the government agencies charged with overseeing the vast acreage of southern pine timberlands. The sparrow occupies restored pine lands managed for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) and therefore provides land managers with added benefit from their management - two declining species protected for the price of one (Wood et al. 2004).  In part this explains the renewed interest in the bird (Dunning et al. 1995, 2000, Plentovich et al. 1998, Conner et al. 2002, Provencher et al. 2002).

Fundamental aspects of this sparrow’s natural history have been provided by a few intensive studies, especially those of Haggerty (1986), Dunning and Watts (1990, 1991), and Dunning et al. (2000). Borror (1961, 1971) provided early and comprehensive analysis of Bachman’s song.  A comparative study among members of the genus Aimophila improved our understanding of this interesting group (Wolf 1977).  Most aspects of the bird’s biology could withstand additional study, especially its wintering ecology, since it is particularly elusive at that season.  Recognition that wintering Bachman’s Sparrows give a distinct call note in response to tape recordings of its song suggests a way to conduct studies at this time (Cox and Jones 2004).