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Ammodramus bairdii

Tim Avery is the record holder in Utah for the most bird species seen in a given year. Avery recorded 355 species in Utah in 2007. Field birders often conduct a "Big Year" competition to see who can observe the highest number. A movie, titled "The Big Year" starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson will premier this October.

Avery's latest rare bird find is a Baird's sparrow. Avery's sighting, if accepted by the Rare Birds Committee, will be the fourth occasion that the bird has been documented in Utah. He saw the bird in Utah County, along Swede Lane SR-77, just before River Lane.

Baird's sparrows have a flat ocherous crown with black stripes and a wide ocher center stripe. There is a dark spot at each rear corner of auriculars. A large bill with a black mustache and buffy wash on streaked sides and flanks. A band of fine black streaks are on the breast. The upper parts are a buffy brown, rufous and black. The under parts are white.

The breeding range of the Baird's sparrow is the prairie region of Canada, Montana and the Dakotas. It winters in northern Mexico. It is monogamous and nests in loose colonies. The female incubates 3-6 eggs for 12 days. The altricial young are brooded by the female and fledge within 10 days.

Usually solitary or found in pairs but can be difficult to observe. They run mouselike into grass and hide. The Baird's sparrow is uncommon and declining with loss of prairie habitat.

By Bill Fenimore, owner of the Layton Wild Bird Center, author of Backyard Birds of Utah and member of the Utah Wildlife Board.