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Nine birders looking into a tree-line along a road with cameras and binoculars
Information icon Visitors lined up at the refuge to see the golden-crowned sparrow. Photo by Terri Jacobson, USFWS.

Rare sparrow found at Red River Refuge

A grey bird with a yellow splotch over it's face
Golden-crowned sparrow in February 2020 at Red River NWR. Photo by Bill Wood, refuge volunteer.

Refuge volunteer and photographer Bill Wood quickly took a photo of a bird that he couldn’t positively identify on January 25, 2020, at Red River National Wildlife Refuge in Bossier City, Louisiana. He showed his photo to Ranger Terri Jacobson and other birders who, after much discussion, identified the bird as a golden-crowned sparrow in winter plumage (meaning its crown feathers were drab and not the noticeable, bright yellow of breeding plumage). Bill’s sighting is the first record for the refuge.

The golden-crowned sparrow is found on the west coast, overwintering in California, Oregon, and Washington and breeding in subalpine habitats of western Canada and Alaska. There are some records of golden-crowned sparrows east of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada Mountains, but these sightings are usually in autumn or spring.

Throughout the rest of January, all of February and part of March, people traveled to the refuge to see the sparrow, coming from the coast and all the surrounding states. One Saturday morning, Ranger Terri counted 22 individuals lined up with cameras, spotting scopes and binoculars. The sparrow was often located in the brushy thickets underneath a large, mature pecan tree in the company of white-crowned and white-throated sparrows. The male bird’s crown turned more yellow the longer he stayed. The last documented golden-crowned sparrow sighting on the refuge as reported in eBird was mid-March. Hopefully, he will fly back to visit Red River Refuge again next winter!


Terri Jacobson, Refuge Ranger, (318) 742-1219

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