Photo: Margo Burnison/Audubon Photography Awards

Savannah Sparrow

Passerculus sandwichensis

A small, streaky bird of open fields, the Savannah Sparrow often causes confusion for birders because it is so variable. Some of its well-marked local forms, such as the pale "Ipswich" Sparrow of Atlantic beaches and the blackish "Belding's" Sparrow of western salt marshes, were once regarded as separate species. Unlike many grassland sparrows, Savannahs are not particularly shy; they often perch up on weeds or fence wires, and their small winter flocks usually can be observed with ease.
Conservation status Some coastal marsh races have small populations and may be vulnerable to loss of habitat. Species as a whole is abundant and widespread.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Open fields, meadows, salt marshes, prairies, dunes, shores. Over most of range, found in open meadows, pastures, edges of marshes, alfalfa fields, pastures; also tundra in summer, shores and weedy vacant lots in winter. Northeastern "Ipswich" Savannah Sparrow lives on grassy coastal dunes; southwestern "Belding's" and "Large-billed" races inhabit salt marshes.
A small, streaky bird of open fields, the Savannah Sparrow often causes confusion for birders because it is so variable. Some of its well-marked local forms, such as the pale "Ipswich" Sparrow of Atlantic beaches and the blackish "Belding's" Sparrow of western salt marshes, were once regarded as separate species. Unlike many grassland sparrows, Savannahs are not particularly shy; they often perch up on weeds or fence wires, and their small winter flocks usually can be observed with ease.
Photo Gallery
  • adult (Ipswich Sparrow)
  • adult (typical form, coloration variable from gray to red)
  • Adult (Belding's Sparrow)
  • adult (typical form, coloration variable from gray to red)
Feeding Behavior

Does most foraging while walking or running on the ground; also sometimes forages in shrubs or low trees. Sometimes makes short flights to catch insects in mid-air, and occasionally scratches in soil or leaf-litter to find food. Except when nesting, often forages in small, loose flocks.


Eggs

2-6, typically 4; tends to lay more eggs in the north. Eggs whitish to pale tan or greenish, with brown markings usually concentrated at larger end. Young: Both parents bring food to the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 8-11 days after hatching (average timing varies among different populations). 1 or 2 broods per year.


Young

Both parents bring food to the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 8-11 days after hatching (average timing varies among different populations). 1 or 2 broods per year.

Diet

Mostly insects and seeds. Feeds on many insects, especially in summer, including beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, flies, and others, plus spiders. Coastal populations will also consume tiny crustaceans and mollusks. Also eats many seeds, mainly of grasses and weeds, and some berries. Young are fed mostly insects.


Nesting

Male sings to defend nesting territory and to attract a mate. In interactions with rivals or with mate, male performs a flight display, with tail raised and feet dangling as he flutters slowly over the grass. In some regions, males may have more than one mate. Nest site is on ground, usually well hidden among grass or weeds. Usually placed under matted dead plants or under overhanging grass, so that nest can only be approached by a "tunnel" from one side. Nest (built by female) is open cup made of grass, lined with finer grass.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

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

Migration

Migrates mostly at night. Migration is generally early in spring and late in fall, although it may spread over a considerable period in both seasons.

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Migration

Migrates mostly at night. Migration is generally early in spring and late in fall, although it may spread over a considerable period in both seasons.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
High-pitched, buzzy tsip-tsip-tsip-se-e-e-srr.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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