Here in the east, there are two sparrows we can encounter that look rather like Song Sparrows.  Both, like Song Sparrows, can show a good range of variation, but both have certain things to look for that will let us tell them from Song Sparrows.  The first one is the fairly common Savannah Sparrow.  Remember the key points of the Song Sparrow?  A brown-looking, smudgy-streaked bird with a big, triangular ‘moustache’ line and usually a center blotch on the breast?  Well, Savannahs are generally a much ‘cleaner’-looking bird; the streaks are much neater – as if they were made with a thin marker instead of a paintbrush – and the general impression is of a light-colored bird, or perhaps one with more contrast between the streaks and the lighter-colored background.  Savannahs often don’t have much of a central blotch, and have a shorter, notched tail, but the big mark for a Savannah are the yellow lores just above and forward of the eye.  White-throated Sparrows (which we’ll cover later on) are the ones we generally notice this feature in; Savannah’s lores aren’t usually quite as bright and obvious, but they are usually noticeable.  It does happen, on occasion, that you’ll encounter a Savannah without obvious yellow lores, but hopefully by the time you do, you’ll be able to identify it as a Savannah by the rest of its features.

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The other streaky sparrow that can be hard to tell from a Song is the Lincoln’s Sparrow.  These seem to move through later in the fall than others; my experience is that we see them more in the second half of October and even into November.  Savannahs are neater and cleaner than Songs, but Lincoln’s Sparrows are really tidy – Song Sparrows look like the streaks were painted on with a brush; Savannahs look like they were streaked with a marker, but Lincoln’s look like they were streaked with a fine-tipped pen over a buffy breast.  Quite often, Lincolns have no central spot, and their ‘moustache’ line is usually as fine below the malar space as the line above it, unlike the Song’s big, triangular line.  Song Sparrows have a light-colored malar space; Savannahs have a white one, but Lincoln’s Sparrows have a noticeably buffy malar, and when you see the two bordering stripes are about equal in strength and width, you very likely are looking at a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

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