Sometimes people get impatient when you try to identify a species. White-crowned sparrow or white-throated sparrow, really, what's the difference?
To a sparrow looking for love, all the difference in the world. Even for humans, it can be important.
While reading Red Arctic, by John McCannon, I came across a story demonstrating the value of careful taxonomy.
It seems that in October 1937 urgent telegrams arrived in Moscow with the news that G. G. Petrov and his men had found the complete skeleton of a woolly mammoth on Wrangel Island, an extremely chilly place in the Arctic Ocean.
Petrov was the head of the Wrangel station of Glavsevmorput, a then-powerful Soviet governmental agency. Petrov and his Communist Party organizer, I. V. Shuvalov, assured everyone that the skeleton was in perfect condition.
A complete mammoth skeleton was huge news in those days – a coup for Soviet science -- and the Zoological Museum and the Academy of Sciences in Moscow fought over which would get it. An expedition was organized to recover the skeleton.
But it was a fierce winter and most ships were trapped in ice. It wasn't until 1938 that the costly expedition made it to Wrangel, where they found that the skeleton was indeed in perfect shape, which enabled them to note that it was the complete skeleton of a beached whale. Not a mammoth. Rrr.
Mammoths, like elephants, had no bones in their trunks, so their skulls wouldn't be as distinctive as you might guess at first. The skeletons of many whales feature long curved bones that resemble tusks.
These were difficult times in the Soviet Union, the years of the Great Purge, and it was felt necessary to assign blame and punishment. The NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) investigated Petrov and Shuvalov, found them to be evil “wreckers” of the Soviet state and had them both shot.
You see my point. In the adult white-throated sparrow, look for the yellow spot between the eye and the bill.