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Striped Sparrow

On January 11th, 2015, Rich Kostecke was birding along a county road in Williamson County, east of Granger Lake in central Texas when he discovered a bird that he knew was unlike any he had seen or might expect in Texas.  He was able to take a couple of photos (see photo at left) and then later that day determined that what he had found was a Striped Sparrow (Oriturus superciliosus).  Striped Sparrow is a bird found in Mexico that had never before been recorded in Texas or the United States.

Rich quickly got the word out to the Texas birding community and the bird was easily re-found the following day.  In fact, it remained somewhat faithful to a small area along that county road for the rest of the winter and was seen and documented by countless birders (photo below, 23 March 2015 by Byron Stone).  The last documented sighting of the Striped Sparrow at that location was on April 7th, 2015, almost 4 months later.

Striped Sparrow is a species endemic to Mexico, currently known to be resident in the mountains of the western slope of Mexico ranging from eastern Sonora to central Oaxaca.  It is found in open pine forest and grassland at elevations from 1500 to 3000 meters.  Striped Sparrows are thought to be year-round resident in their range though perhaps there is some slight altitudinal movement.  Still, it is not a species that was at all expected to be found in central Texas.

By all accounts, the Williamson County bird showed no signs of having been captive.  It was well photographed and there were no indications of unusual feather wear, nor odd bill or leg abnormalities.  Behaviorally, it seemed to associate with and feed with the resident mixed wintering sparrow flock in the area and reacted with wariness not unlike any other bird in the group.

TBRC Members who voted on this record will say it is one of the most perplexing records in regard to "how did it get here?" they can recall hearing about in Texas or the US.  The identification was clearly correct and a non-issue, but the seemingly unanswerable question of provenance was one that was difficult for each member of the committee to take a side on.  Here is a species that has no established pattern of vagrancy, seems to undergo only slight altitudinal movements and is only very seldom, if at all, found away from its preferred habitat in Mexico.  It certainly seems to be, by virtually all accounts, a sedentary species.  On the other hand, constructing a scenario of how such a species could find its way via unnatural means to a rural county road in the middle of central Texas also proves difficult.  This species is not known to be a regular captive or cage bird, nor does it present qualities (beautiful song, striking plumage, etc.) that might make it desirable to be caged.  Even a scenario where a Striped Sparrow got caught up in a vehicle somehow and was transported to essentially the middle of nowhere is difficult to imagine.

This record was circulated 3 times for review by TBRC members, each time receiving a un-decisive vote (5-4,6-3,6-3).  As per TBRC By-laws, it was then discussed at the 2016 Annual Meeting where it received a final vote of 6-3, which means the final decision is that the record was NOT ACCEPTED, due to questionable origin.

The TBRC does not claim that it KNOWS how this particular Striped Sparrow came to be in central Texas and recognizes that others may have different theories that could possibly provide a (hypothetical) explanation for a natural occurrence there. Documentation for additional Striped Sparrow sightings is always welcome as a means of better establishing either a pattern of natural vagrancy or human assisted occurrences.  Should more records arise and a pattern of natural vagrancy become a reality, this particular record could certainly be reevaluated.

Eric Carpenter

Secretary, Texas Bird Records Committee, August 2016.

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