Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Lincoln's Sparrow

Melospiza lincolnii

Generally a skulker in dense low cover, this sparrow often goes unnoticed during migration and winter -- especially in the East, where it is quite uncommon. In the West, birders soon learn to find it by its hard chep callnote in the bushes. Even where they are common, Lincoln's Sparrows tend to be solitary, not joining flocks. The musical song of the males is heard in summer in willow thickets of the North and the Mountain West.
Conservation status Still widespread and common.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Willow and alder thickets, muskeg, brushy bogs. In winter, thickets, weeds, bushes. Breeds in northern and mountainous areas in dense low vegetation near water, such as streamside willow groves, bushy edges of bogs, brushy clearings in wet coniferous forest. Winters in dense thickets, overgrown fields.
Generally a skulker in dense low cover, this sparrow often goes unnoticed during migration and winter -- especially in the East, where it is quite uncommon. In the West, birders soon learn to find it by its hard chep callnote in the bushes. Even where they are common, Lincoln's Sparrows tend to be solitary, not joining flocks. The musical song of the males is heard in summer in willow thickets of the North and the Mountain West.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly while hopping on the ground, typically under or close to dense thickets.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-6. Pale green to greenish white, heavily spotted with reddish brown. Incubation is by female only, about 12-14 days. Female may remain on nest until approached very closely, then scurry away over the ground like a rodent. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 9-12 days after hatching, may be tended by the parents for another 2-3 weeks or more.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 9-12 days after hatching, may be tended by the parents for another 2-3 weeks or more.

Diet

Mostly insects and seeds. Feeds on many insects, especially in summer, including caterpillars, beetles, moths, ants, flies, and many others, also spiders and millipedes. Seeds probably make up majority of diet, especially in winter; included are seeds of weeds and grasses. Young are probably fed entirely on insects


Nesting

Male defends nesting territory by singing. In some areas, may compete with Song Sparrows for territories, but Song Sparrows usually dominate. Nest site is on the ground, very well hidden under clump of grass or under dense shrubbery, often sunken in a depression in sphagnum moss or other ground cover. Nest (built by female only) is a shallow open cup of grasses or sedges, lined with fine grass and sometimes with animal hair.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Season of migration is spread over a long period in both spring and fall, with some birds migrating both early and late, especially in the West.

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Migration

Season of migration is spread over a long period in both spring and fall, with some birds migrating both early and late, especially in the West.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A rich, gurgling, wren-like song rising in the middle and dropping abruptly at the end.

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