Breeding Bird Atlas 2 Species Accounts
- Local and strongly declining
- Conservation action urgent
- State Wildlife Action Plan listed
The White-throated Sparrow is a handsome and well-known bird of northern young forests. Often considered an icon of the northern woods, its clearly whistled song is widely recognized, but indications are that the species is in serious decline. White-throated Sparrows have been whistling the lament of Poor Sam Peabody for longer than anyone can remember, but who in the future will sing the lament of the White-throated Sparrow?
Historic StatusHistorical confusion between late migrants and actual breeders has lent an air of mystery to the status of the White-throated Sparrow in the Commonwealth. The “Peabody Bird” was known to the earliest recorders of birdlife in Massachusetts as a migrant that passed through the state during a brief two-week period before moving to the far north (Peabody 1839). A half century later, the species had become both an occasional resident in winter and a well-known breeder, the latter specifically concentrated at the higher elevations of the northern central and western parts of the state (Howe & Allen 1901). Edward Howe Forbush described the White-throated Sparrow as “breeding locally on western and northern highlands and sporadically elsewhere; rare winter residents, chiefly coastwise,” (Forbush 1929).
Atlas 1 DistributionWhite-throated Sparrows bred in many parts of the state during Atlas 1, occupying 35% of the blocks surveyed, but the nexus of breeding activity was plainly in the western highlands. The Berkshire Highlands and Lower Berkshire Hills resounded with the refrain of Poor Sam Peabody across more than 90% of the blocks in each ecoregion, in contrast to the stark distribution gap posed by the Connecticut River Valley with only 20% of the blocks occupied. The Worcester Plateau showed a considerable concentration of breeding activity, though relatively few birds spilled over into the Lower Worcester Plateau. White-throated Sparrows were scattered and irregular in their breeding distribution throughout the Coastal Plains, Boston Basin, and Bristol/Narragansett Lowlands.
Atlas 2 Distribution and ChangeHabitat loss may be mostly to blame for the sharp decline, to only 16% of the blocks surveyed, in the breeding presence of White-throated Sparrows in Massachusetts. Losses were widespread and were in every region of the state. The effort-controlled data showed a net loss for the species in 182 blocks, or 22% of the blocks in that data set. The wholesale loss of the species from the eastern reaches of the state is troubling, and despite concerns of methods it is a fact that all blocks in which they were Confirmed during Atlas 1 in the eastern reaches of the state no longer have breeding White-throated Sparrows.
Atlas 1 Map
Atlas 2 Map
Atlas Change Map
|Atlas 1||Atlas 2||Change|
|Ecoregion||# Blocks||% Blocks||% of Range||# Blocks||% Blocks||% of Range||Change in # Blocks||Change in % Blocks|
|Marble Valleys/Housatonic Valley||28||71.8||8.3||7||17.9||4.2||-21||-53.8|
|Lower Berkshire Hills||27||96.4||8.0||11||35.5||6.6||-16||-59.3|
|Connecticut River Valley||11||19.6||3.3||5||7.7||3.0||-6||-12.5|
|Lower Worcester Plateau||31||41.9||9.2||16||20.0||9.6||-16||-29.6|
|S. New England Coastal Plains and Hills||54||20.0||16.1||13||4.6||7.8||-42||-18.6|
|Bristol and Narragansett Lowlands||17||16.0||5.1||2||1.8||1.2||-16||-15.8|
|Cape Cod and Islands||4||2.9||1.2||1||0.7||0.6||-3||-2.5|