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Changes to the British List (10 Aug 2018)

The British Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee (BOURC) has added the following subspecies to the British List:

White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii
Second-calendar-year, Woolston Eyes, Cheshire, 30 April 2016 (photographed).


White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leugophrys gambelii, Woolston Eyes, Cheshire, Apr 2016
© David Bowman

As a subspecies breeding in north-western North America this taxon seems an unlikely vagrant to Europe. However, a number of individuals showing the distinctive head pattern and bill colour of gambelii have been noted on the east coast of North America, so it is prone to vagrancy. Moreover, other north-western Nearctic bird species, both non-passerines and passerines, have also reached Europe, so such extralimital movements can occur.

There is a previous Western Palearctic record of a bird resembling gambelii from Corvo, Azores, on 20-22 October 2013.

The Cheshire individual showed all the characteristics of the subspecies gambelii. Its presence in late April accords with other European records of North American sparrows, which have often been found in late spring. There were no issues with provenance, as the species is not reported in captivity.

Breeds in North America in Alaska and west Canada, migrating south through the western USA to winter to central Mexico.

White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys leucophrys
Second-calendar-year or older, male, Port of Ness (Port Nis), Isle of Lewis (Eilean Leòdhais), Outer Hebrides, 3-4 and 31 May 2016 (photographed).


White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys leucophrys, Port of Ness (Port Nis), Isle of Lewis (Eilean Leòdhais), Outer Hebrides, May 2016 © John Murdo MacFarlane

Though there are a number of records of this species in Britain and north-west Europe, none had been confirmed as the nominate subspecies leucophrys. This is the most likely subspecies to be a vagrant to Europe as it breeds in central and north-eastern North America, moving large distances along the east coast to winter in south and south-east USA.

The Outer Hebrides individual was well photographed and described allowing confirmation that it was the subspecies leucophrys. Previous records, including the first on Fair Isle, Shetland, in 1977, were noted as likely intergrades, showing some ‘intermediate’ characteristics with other subspecies.

Such a late spring sighting on a Scottish island is typical for vagrant Nearctic sparrows. Furthermore, there are no issues with provenance, as it is rarely reported in captivity.

Breeds in North America in central and eastern Canada, migrating south to winter in south and south-eastern USA.

The British List remains at 616 species (Category A = 598; Category B = 8; Category C = 10).

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