When I heard back on 12 November that a Harris’s Sparrow was frequenting a feeder in Loudonville, New York, up where I learned to be a birder, in Albany County, I really wanted to go on the twitch. But I couldn’t get up there as quickly as I would have liked, what with life getting in the way and all, and it took until it had been around for a week before I could finally make the trip.  I picked up Rich Guthrie, Albany-area birding legend, on my way, and we headed to the spot, the wonderfully named Bacon Lane in Loudonville.

En route, we discussed the brouhaha that the sparrow had caused. At first, the homeowners had not wanted hordes of birders traipsing through their yard to see the bird but Rich had talked them into allowing limited numbers of birders to come at specified times. Then a birder showed up outside of those specified times and parked in the homeowners’ driveway, which was pretty obnoxious and made them decide to not allow any birders at all. Rich managed to change their mind yet again and, as a gesture of goodwill, asked birders to bring food items for the food pantry that the homeowner, a minister, administered through his church. This has proved wildly successful, with bags of food being provided for those who need it.

Rich also warned me that the sparrow generally stayed in the cover of some shrubbery and rarely allowed the kind of looks that someone trying to see a life bird (me) would want. You see, Harris’s Sparrow is a bird of the middle of the continent and though it regularly vagrates to the east coast, generally being found at feeders, I had never managed to connect with one.

While we waited I was entertained by Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadees, an assortment of other common feeder birds, and a Pileated Woodpecker, the latter a treat for me since I moved to New York City, where they rarely occur and then generally not near me, seven-and-a-half years ago.

Pileated Woodpecker

Ain’t nothin’ wrong with appreciating a Pileated Woodpecker.

But, as you can tell from the photo at the top of this post, the Harris’s Sparrow soon made an appearance and the woodpecker was forgotten. Like a White-throated Sparrow that had its front end dipped in ink and its beak replaced with a Field Sparrow‘s, the Harris’s Sparrow is somehow much classier than the run-of-the-mill, feeder-spillage foragers.

Harris's Sparrow looking at camera

This is one classy sparrow!

Harris's Sparrow back view

Though, to be honest, it is nothing special when viewed from behind.

As you can see from the photos above, Rich’s warning about the bird not generally coming out into the open were completely misplaced. Not only did the bird come out into the open, but it stayed there, foraging until we had our fill. I didn’t want to walk away but I did and as I did the bird took off as well, flying further back into the back yard. It was a great way to see a lifer!

Harris's Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrow!

There was one other particularly interesting sparrow feeding on Bacon Lane that day as well. Check out this White-throated Sparrow!

White-throated Sparrow leucistic

White-throated? More like White-cheeked, right?

Here’s hoping the Harris’s Sparrow continues to show and show well and that birders continue to bring bags full of food as a tribute to how twitching can be a positive action!

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.