Re: Song Sparrows on eBird

Alvaro Jaramillo

I guess the issue then is what you consider merrilli to look like, and in particular if eBird is lumping montana/merrili, then they are considering them to look like Eastern/interior birds not coastal birds. I think you are considering merrilli to be a coastal type bird, particularly if you are considering it against morphna. So this bird has to be called "rufina group" as that would include cleonensis, morphna, rufina, and any merrilli populations that are coastal-like.

Photos of interior merrili are much clearer bellied than the SF bird. Here are British Columbia Song Sparrow photos from March-May, for folks to look at. You may have to get a map out to figure if you are looking at a coastal site, or an interior site, but it is illuminating to the variability of morphna and how well striped interior merrilli type things are. Basically they look like a montana, but with much rustier tone to the streaks.®ion=British%20Columbia,%20Canada%20(CA)&regionCode=CA-BC&q=Song%20Sparrow%20-%20Melospiza%20melodia

Fun stuff!

Alvaro Jaramillo

-----Original Message-----
From: Peter Pyle []
Sent: Thursday, January 18, 2018 5:49 PM
To: Alvaro Jaramillo <>
Cc: 'Dominik Mosur' <>; 'SFBirds' <>; 'Ken R. Schneider' <>
Subject: Re: [SFBirds] Song Sparrows on eBird

Hi Al -

Appreciate your comments and I agree that a designation of "merrilli/montana" is problematic.
I believe that merrilli is another
intergrade-swarm taxon from central British Columbia (akin to altivagans Fox Sparrow and cismontanus Dark-eyed Junco) so liking it with any of the three subspecies groups is problematic.

In a detailed specimen-based analysis we (Oscar Johnson, Jim Tietz, and I) concluded that merrilli was the most common "rufous" Song Sparrow in central California. Most of the specimens identified as morphna at CAS and MVZ appear to be merrilli. The SF bird appears too streaky to me for morphna and the field descriptions of its size seem too large for cleonensis. It seems rather typical of the merrilli to me, although caution is always warranted with these taxa since they can vary to look like any or all three of the surrounding subspecies groups..

Our paper is here:
for anyone who wants to dig into this subject further.

Cheers, Peter

At 05:10 PM 1/18/2018, 'Alvaro Jaramillo' [SFBirds] wrote:

Ken, and SF Birds.

I couldn’t help but look at the eBird designation of that Song
Sparrow. I think I need to send out a note to the eBird folks for
clarification.. But the designation montana/merrilli is a bit
problematic. It is problematic in a conceptual manner, and specifically
to this bird. The form montana is what you see on the other side of the
Sierras and northward from that, it is not too different from a Song
Sparrow from the East. Some consider Montana all the way to the
Atlantic to be one group. If you divide up these Great Basin/Mountain
birds, then as you go north, montana changes to a darker form merrilli.
But some have considered that to be an intermediate form with the
darker coastal birds. So that is the conceptual thing, perhaps they
should call this “montana group” to be clear, merrilli muddies
things up as some think it is from the coastal group, not the
mountain-east group.

But specifically regarding this bird, these darker more grey and rufous
birds are coastal birds from farther north, so West of the Cascades.
They begin as cleonensis to our north, change to morphna, then rufina
etc. Since rufina is the oldest named in that group, the entire
conglomerate of darker/coastal Song Sparrow of the Pac NW are called
the “rufina group.” That is what this bird should be identified as
in eBird.

Now our regularly occurring Song Sparrow in the Bay Area (away from
Salt Marshes) should be separated as “heermanni Group.” While
specifically the birds we see are gouldi, the group name comes from the
oldest named in the group, so heermanni.

I expect that montana/merrilli are extremely rare or non-existent here,
perhaps as rare as weeing a Thick-billed Fox Sparrow in the Bay Area. I
may be wrong, I have not looked up Grinnell and Miller on this, but it
is my expectation. BTW – there is a Song Sparrow Facebook group if you
all waant to discuss Song Sparrow.

Good birding,


Alvaro Jaramillo


[] On Behalf Of Dominik Mosur [SFBirds]
Sent: Thursday, January 18, 2018 3:35 PM
To: SFBirds <>
Subject: [SFBirds] Belated report of Pink-sided Junco/_merrilli_ Song
Sparrow GGP Lloyd Lake 1/14/18

On Sunday morning (1/14/18) at Lloyd Lake in Golden Gate Park there was
a YELLOW WARBLER and WHITE-THROATED Sparrow, both wintering
'continuers' previously reported in the area.

A bird I had not seen reported there previously was an interesting SONG
SPARROW that appeared darker than our local types and larger, closer in
overall size to White-crowns feeding nearby.

Additionally there was an 'interesting' looking female Dark-eyed Junco.

Ken Schneider was able to obtain images of the Song Sparrow and Junco
later that morning. These can be seen here:

Based on input we received from Peter Pyle, the Song Sparrow is of the
northwest ssp _merrilli_ and the junco looks good for a Pink-sided

Thanks to Peter Pyle for helping with the ID and Ken Schneider for
obtaining the excellent diagnostic images.

The sparrow flock at Lloyd Lake typical concentrates along the trail at
the northeast corner, near the pumphouse, where someone regularly
scatters seed.

Dominik Mosur

San Francisco

Sent from my iPhone

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