In a birding guide to Veracruz, I came across the casual mention of a bird called the Worthen’s Sparrow. The guide said that Worthen’s Sparrows were known to have been seen in the far eastern edge of Veracruz in an area called Perote. This part of Veracruz features a succession of increasingly arid habitats as it nears the state of Puebla – prairie, scrub, mal pais, and eventually desert.
I had never heard of this bird before, but I attributed it to the fact that I’m a terrible birder who doesn’t even own a field guide. I wanted to see a Worthen’s Sparrow, since I have never seen one, but I didn’t think too hard about it. That is, until we discovered this is actually one of the rarest bird species in North America. They once ranged from New Mexico to Veracruz, but is now restricted three tiny groups in north-eastern Mexico. They seem to be tied to a very specific soil type and the vegetation that goes with it. The total population of this species is estimated to be no more than 500 individuals, and is likely closer to about 200. They as scarce as the far more iconic Whooping Crane or California Condors.
Why has nobody heard of this bird, then? I suppose because it’s ugly, and it’s in Mexico. Although, rare, ugly, and in Mexico is about all it takes for ME to become very excited. I have spent some time trying to find the probably extirpated Worthen’s Sparrows of Veracruz, but have turned up nothing. I want another chance to look. Chances are there is no habitat in Veracruz that can really support their needs, but something seems romantic to me to be the champion of an ugly bird in an ugly habitat, and another reservoir of genetic diversity would be invaluable to a minute population of slowly dwindling birds.