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Number of species: 79

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Lincoln's Sparrow - Melospiza lincolnii

Lincoln's Sparrow has a partial preformative molt and absent to limited prealternate molts. Most individuals can be aged by plumage characteristics, but some intermediates are difficult to age in spring. Sex can be determined only by brood patch / cloacal protuberance during the breeding season.

Juvenile plumage is very similar to that of Song and Swamp Sparrows; Lincoln's Sparrow tends to have a proportionately longer wing and shorter tail, and a grayish (as opposed to yellowish) upper mouth lining.

Quick tips

  • Look at the tail - uniformly narrow and pointed rectrices OR contrastingly fresh and broad central rectrices are indicative of FCF/FCU (HY/SY), while uniformly broad and more rounded rectrices are typical of DCB/DCU (AHY/ASY).
  • In fall, look at the face - FCF (HY) birds tend to have a more golden-beige face including a beige eye ring, whereas DCB (AHY) birds are more grayish, sometimes incluing a gray eye ring.
  • Check the outer primary coverts - they are relatively narrow and pointed with minimal pale brown edging on FCF/FCU (HY/SY) birds, and relatively broad and rounded with fairly distinct brown edging on DCB/DCU (AHY/ASY) birds.

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory (2016). Last updated by Marcel Gahbauer (Mar 2022)

The molt categories displayed below may be filtered by month.

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Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.

Individuals not in molt

FCJ - (HY: June - August)
Head relatively dark and underparts more coarsely streaked than on older individuals
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2351-48678-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1877.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2351-48678-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1879.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2351-48678-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1878.jpg
FCF - (HY: July - December; SY January - March)
Rectrices all narrow and pointed, or mixed with contrastingly fresh and broad central rectrices; primary coverts narrow with little or no edging; beige eye-ring
U
Thumbnail - MG2-1851-88575-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1874.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-1851-88575-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1876.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-1851-88575-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1875.jpg
FCU - (SY: March - August)
Rectrices all narrow and pointed, or mixed with contrastingly fresh and broad central rectrices; primary coverts narrow with little or no edging
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2401-97321-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1880.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2401-97321-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1882.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2401-97321-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1881.jpg
DCB - (AHY: July - December; ASY January - March)
Rectrices uniformly broad and rounded; wing largely uniform in colour and wear, with secondaries and primary coverts only slightly lighter than greater coverts; primary coverts relatively broad and rounded with fairly distinct brown edging; gray eye-ring
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2221-82041-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1868.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2221-82041-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1870.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2221-82041-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1869.jpg
DCU - (ASY: March - August)
Rectrices uniformly broad and rounded; wing largely uniform in colour and wear, with secondaries and primary coverts only slightly lighter than greater coverts; primary coverts relatively broad and rounded with fairly distinct brown edging; gray eye-ring
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2221-20744-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1871.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2221-20744-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1873.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2221-20744-Melospiza_lincolnii_AOU_7_52-1872.jpg

Individuals in active molt

FPJ - (HY: June - August)
Similar to FCJ; some natal down remaining and/or juvenile flight feathers still growing in
No images available yet
FPF - (HY: July - August)
Similar to FCF; median and greater coverts and in some cases also tertials and central rectrices being replaced
No images available yet
FPA - (SY: February - April)
Similar to FCF; some body feathers and occasionally one or two tertials being replaced
No images available yet
SPB - (SY: July - August)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained juvenile primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts distinctly pale brown and very worn
No images available yet
DPB - (AHY: July - August)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts either distinctly adult (relatively dark, less worn) or intermediate
No images available yet
DPA - (ASY: February - April)
Similar to DCB; some body feathers and occasionally one or two tertials being replaced
No images available yet

Applicable unknown plumage/age classes

Molt classes Age Months Key traits
M-FPF / UPU (FPF, SPB, DPB) U July - August Undergoing preformative or prebasic molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCF / UCU (FCF, SCB, DCB) U/AHY July - March In formative or basic plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FPA / UPA (FPA, DPA) AHY February - April Undergoing prealternate molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCA / UCA (FCA, DCA) AHY March - August In alternate plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable

Number of species: 79

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