Sparrow Identification Class

Sparrows are the most famous of the “little brown birds” that send beginning birders back to the river to look at ducks, herons, and eagles. Most species of sparrows are pretty easy to identify, especially when they are singing and in breeding plumage. Admittedly, at other times of year and in other plumages, some of them are hard – but not impossible – to tell apart. There are 25 species in the New World Sparrows (Passerellidae) that occur in Idaho, and 21 of these are more than “casual” or “accidental.” Another 6 species from other families may be confused with sparrows. We will explore 6 different approaches to identifying these species and separating them from one another – plumage, song, habitat, abundance, seasonality, and taxonomy. This workshop also will be an opportunity to learn clues that other birders in the audience use to identify these species.


Toni Holthuijzen

Toni is a Senior Ecologist with Idaho Power Company and has conducted ecological research over the past 45 years. His interest and experience is in ornithology, plant population dynamics, and plant-animal interactions (seed dispersal).  He is a certified as a Senior Ecologist with the Ecological Society of America and a Certified Wildlife Biologist with The Wildlife Society.

In the late 1970s through early 1980s he worked on tropical and temperate animal seed dispersal ecology.  During the mid-1980s, he studied the behavior and ecology of prairie falcons in the Snake River Birds of Prey Area in southwestern Idaho. During the past 25 years, his work focused on plant and animal communities along the Snake River in Idaho. These studies encompass all major taxonomic groups of terrestrial wildlife vertebrates, especially distribution, population densities, and relationships between major taxonomic terrestrial vertebrates and habitat characteristics. Currently, he is conducting vegetation and wildlife monitoring on IPC’s mitigation properties in Hells Canyon.


Zeke Watkins

Zeke is an avid fly-fisherman and has been watching birds his entire life. He is never on the river without his Binoculars under his fly-vest. He started keeping keeping track of the birds he was identifying sixteen years ago. Since then he has traveled all over the western United States, Hawaii and Costa Rica in pursuit of birds. In that time he has amassed a life list of over 800 species of birds. He expects to cross the 1000 bird milestone in June when he travels to Italy. He leads bird-watching trips for the Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society and his team are 3-time champions at the City of Rocks annual Big Day competition in South-Central Idaho. Follow his adventures on Instagram: @idahobirder

Jan Simpkin

Jan has loved birds since she was a little girl.  She studied biology in college and graduate school, focusing on ecology and the mating system of Mountain Bluebirds.

She teaches biology at the College of Southern Idaho, where she teaches EcologyEnvironmental Science, and Science, Literature, and the Environment.  Her students study questions about bird life on the CSI campus.

She has been a member of the Audubon Society for years and participates in Christmas Bird Counts, winter raptor surveys, and birding for fun.

Randy Smith

Randy has been a Biology Professor at the College of Southern Idaho since 2002. Before that he taught for 9 years at the College of Southern Nevada.

His interest in birdwatching was triggered by his wife after she took an ornithology class from Dr. Chuck Trost at Idaho State University. Further interest was developed on trips to Botswana and Costa Rica. Randy enjoys participating in  various local Audubon club bird counts throughout the year.

He looks forward to meeting more birders during the Hagerman Bird Festival.   Let’s Bird!

Barry Brown

“One half of my bluebird nesting boxes stolen or destroyed” was the complaint of a Twin Falls Idaho gentleman, Eugene Pyles, in his 2013 Letter to the Editor.   I didn’t know a thing about bluebird nesting boxes, but that someone would steal or destroy them made me angry.

I began assisting Eugene and over the next few months built enough boxes to renew Eugene’s trail and put up more.  Nancy joined me in creating our own Bluebird Trail, and by 2015, we had fledged 15 young.  In 2017, we monitored 59 boxes on 6 trails, and fledged 164 bluebirds!

If you are interested, we could use your help maintaining and monitoring these trails.