Bathing Vesper Sparrow (this bird didn’t read “the book”)

Vesper Sparrows are “dust bathers”.  They do it so often that they’re known for having puffs of dust fly off of them when they’re flushed and take off.  In fact, Birds of North America Online says they’re “not observed to bathe in water”.  This Vesper Sparrow didn’t read the book.


vesper sparrow 4727 ron dudley

 1/3200 f/5.6, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

When we’re in the Centennial Valley of Montana I sometimes drive the much more isolated North Road as we’re looking for birds.  It’s a very long and dusty dirt road but sometimes it pays off in raptors.  Earlier this month it paid off in a bathing Vesper Sparrow instead, which we found fluttering around a little spring flowing next to the road.  This birds bath began cautiously…



vesper sparrow 4735 ron dudley

  1/2500 f/5.6, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

 but as in most little birds it soon became quite frenetic about it.  I was happy to get a good light angle and eye contact for the performance.



vesper sparrow 4737 ron dudley

 1/2500 f/5.6, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called

 The sparrow seemed to deliberately fluff its feathers before crouching down into the water to shake…



vesper sparrow 4718 ron dudley

 1/2500 f/5.6, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called

 which makes sense because the feather surfaces would make better contact with the water when fluffed.  The feather and body contortions of the bird were quite impressive.



vesper sparrow 4757 ron dudley

 1/3200 f/7.1, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called

When the bath was complete the sparrow landed on a nearby wire to shake and dry off in the sun.  I thought it was interesting behavior (despite the lack of a catch light in the eye and the ugly, shiny wire).


Note:  I may contact BNA Online about this Vesper Sparrow bathing behavior in case they’d like to update their information on the species.  I did the same thing a few years ago when I photographed a Western Kingbird casting a pellet (BNA said they had “no information” on pellet casting in Western Kingbirds) and they seemed appreciative of the information.  They even asked to use my image, which I allowed, though they haven’t yet updated their information on that species.

You may consider the previous paragraph to be a plug for BNA Online.  It’s a pay site but well worth the subscription fee for anyone with a deep interest in and curiosity about birds. 


16 comments to Bathing Vesper Sparrow (this bird didn’t read “the book”)

  • jane chesebrough

    Love these, such energy and zest!

  • Susan Stone

    Great series! I especially like the next to last image. I’ve watched many birds bathe, but I’ve never before seen such contortions. This bird really puts a smile on my face.

  • Not only didn’t read the book, but is thumbing its beak at the wisdom of those who wrote it. That looks like practised behaviour – and my anthromporphic self can feel the joy.
    Great series. Again. Thank you.

  • Patty Chadwick

    We usually see our various kinds of sparrows taking dust baths, too, but we turned a stump and its roots upside down, wedged a large terracotta saucer into the exposed roots, filled the saucer with water and sparrows now frequently come to bathe…they bathe vigorously,as a group, sending water flying all over the place…it’s fun to watch them!

  • Arwen

    Maybe this one heard about getting some free publicity on the web from the Western Kingbird. Wanted shake off the local dust. Head to Hollywood. 🙂

  • Beautiful photos, Ron! And I love the contortions while bathing!

    • Lauren, those contortions are really interesting close up and at relatively fast shutter speeds. Some of them don’t make pretty pictures but they sure can get into weird positions for a nanosecond.

  • AWww .. the little sweetie …. love the capture with Birdie’s head upside down in the water!!! Well done, Ron!!

  • Dick Harlow

    Great pictures!! Just when the ‘experts’ think they know it all, here comes additional information to prove they have to adjust their talk!! Wonderful! Well, you know there are some humans that don’t like water, I suppose there are some Vesper dust bathers that wouldn’t think of bathing just drinking. You caught the one that proves the experts wrong! I have never seen a bathing bird dunk its head – this guys head is laying in the water, wonderful shot, kudos for sharing these images!

    • Dick, I had no idea that Vesper Sparrows bathing in water was unusual (or unknown) until I read the entry in BNA. That made the images all the more interesting for me but I like them for their own sake too. Thank you.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Just shows that even the sparrows of the field are not all the same. Wonderful shots and information.