Dead or alive? Does it matter for a bird sighting?

Fox Sparrow

The rich chestnut color and enormous size of this sparrow distinguish it from others in the Carolinas.


The question sounds cold, but sticks in my mind, because a Fox Sparrow is an interesting find, not endangered by any means, but not common either.  Certain birders have a sort of pride about stalking and then “pishing” or flushing out the object of their desire, thus validating the life-list item by their mastery of birding techniques.  Obviously this would not qualify by any of those standards.  (“Pishing” is a birder’s imitation of a commonly heard alarm call–think in particular the Tufted Titmouse.)

The most official criterion, though, is simply that one have a photo.  So this one does qualify by that requirement.  Reviewers would remark that the bird is obviously dead, so it would probably be marked as illegitimate.  See E-bird’s Data Quality Control Page for some more information on the evidence citizen science counts and maps expect.

The location is not totally unexpected (NC mountains), but who says that this bird couldn’t have been a late migrant who decided to stop for a bite to eat around our house, then took mortal offense at his challenging reflection?

So I have no firm answers really.  But I am thankful to have witnessed some of God’s beauty manifest in the birds, even in a sad context.

About birdsandbenjamin

I am a resident of the North Carolina foothills and visitor to the mountains who finds great joy in observing and living with one of man's best friends, birds! I have limited photographic equipment, only a Nikon L810 and a pair of binoculars (for long-distance images). Nonetheless, I hope you see the heart behind the images and enjoy the beauty of birds on this blog.
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2 Responses to Dead or alive? Does it matter for a bird sighting?

  1. blueridgebluecollargirl says:

    Aww, such a beautiful bird—I am so sorry he battled his own reflection to such an untimely end. I actually had tears spring to my eyes looking at your picture. He looks so peaceful. I’m sorry your first sighting of a fox sparrow was this little fellow. I know, like me, you much prefer the living, breathing, flying sighting. I’m grateful that he graced the earth for a least a little while.

  2. Ariel says:

    That’s an interesting birding quandary, and not one I’d considered before (since I am merely an armchair birder for whom life lists matter only a little). Some of the most interesting birds I’ve encountered are, sadly enough, birds that have flown into glassy high-rise buildings and either knocked themselves silly or died. That was the first—and, thus far, the only—time I’ve seen a Protonotary Warbler. And he did make it. So does it count since he seemingly survived, but it wouldn’t have had he not survived? Seems somewhat arbitrary. Perhaps it matters more for bird census purposes; among birds that crash into tall buildings, migratory species may be inaccurately overrepresented, just due to their flight patterns. In any case, I’m glad you were able to appreciate this Fox Sparrow, and I hope that the “dead or alive” distinction doesn’t ever take away from the wonder of seeing your first of a species.

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