White-eared Ground-Sparrows

White-eared Ground-Sparrow

The White-eared Ground-Sparrow, Melozone leucotis, is a large American sparrow.


Distribution / Range

This bird breeds in a small range of Central America at middle altitudes from southern Mexico and Guatemala to northern Costa Rica. The species range is on the Pacific side of Central America, and Belize, (on the Gulf of Mexico), and Honduras are not in its normal range.

This bird is found typically at altitudes between 500 and 2000 m in the undergrowth and thickets of ravines, forest edge, and other semi-open woodland including second growth and large gardens.

It is usually in pairs, and is a shy species best seen at near or dusk, although easier to find than its skulking relative, the Prevost's Ground-Sparrow.


Breeding / Nesting

The nest, built by the female, is a massive bowl of stems, twigs and other plant material constructed on the ground or less than 75 cm up, and hidden amongst banana plants, orchids or similar cover. The female lays two brown-blotched white eggs, which she incubates for 12-14 days. The male helps in feeding the chicks.


Description

The White-eared Ground-Sparrow is on average 17.5 cm long and weighs 43 g. The adult has a stubby dark-grey bill and unstreaked olive-brown upperparts. The head is mainly black with a broken white eye ring and white patches in front and behind the eye. The nape is green and the sides of the neck are bright yellow. The throat and breast patch are black, separated by a thin rufous grey line, and the rest of the underparts are mainly white with grey on the flanks.

Young birds have yellower underparts, and a duller indistinct head pattern.

North Nicaragua birds, M. l. nigrior have a much broader black breast spot than the nominate Costa Rican form, and the northernmost of the three subspecies, M. l. occipitalis, has a grey crown stripe, obvious yellow supercilium, and very small breast spot.


Calls / Vocalization

White-eared Ground-Sparrow calls include a thin tsip. The male’s song is an explosive whistled spit-CHUR see-see-see.


Diet / Feeding

The White-eared Ground-Sparrow feeds on the ground on seeds, fallen berries, insects and spiders.


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