Vesper Sparrow on Nest 2008

Vesper Sparrow
                               photo by Suzanne Beauchesne

Helping out a
‘Little Brown Bird’


Once again, NALT is working to help a critically endangered ‘little brown bird’ with a big voice - the Coastal Vesper Sparrow.  In March of this year, NALT carried out a community-wide door-to-door information blitz to 500 households in the Cassidy and South Wellington areas.  The information package included an invitation to an evening presentation at the Cottonwood Golf Club, next to the Nanaimo Airport.

Since 2004, NALT has been working with the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) on a variety of activities to improve Coastal Vesper Sparrow habitat and raise community awareness about the birds and their needs.  Although Vesper Sparrows are found in greater numbers in BC’s interior, on the coast there is only one known flock of about a half-dozen nesting pairs of the Coastal Vesper Sparrow sub-species.  And the only known nesting location of the birds is a small patch of gravelly grassland at the south end of the Nanaimo Airport. 

The Coastal Vesper Sparrow is a small, grey-brown bird with dull-white underside.  It is lightly streaked on the throat, breast and sides and has a distinctive white eye ring and white outer tail feathers best seen in flight. These features are the best way to tell a Vesper Sparrow from the more common Savannah Sparrow, which has a yellow stripe above its eyes.

Perhaps the easiest way of identifying a Vesper Sparrow is by its melodious song, which is described as two pairs of slurred whistles—the second with a higher pitch—followed by a series of short, descending trills.  To hear this delightful song, click here and scroll midway down the page.  The Vesper Sparrow gets its name from its habit of singing into late afternoon and early evening (at vesper time).  During the nesting season, the male will sing throughout the day, serenading his mate from a perch near the hidden ground nest. 

A number of factors are thought to have contributed to the decline of the Coastal Vesper Sparrow,
including climate change, pollution, and the destruction of habitat due to development.  Changes in farming practices have also reduced the short grasslands habitat favoured by the birds .

The decline of the Coastal Vesper Sparrow is significant as a warning sign of things to come. For instance, more than 90 species of plants, animals and insects are currently listed as ‘at risk’ due to the loss of Garry Oak ecosystems, a known habitat for Coastal Vesper Sparrows.  Less than five percent of the original Garry Oak ecosystems remain—and those areas are also threatened.  

Click here for more info about GOERT.