Photo: G. Lasley/Vireo

Vesper Sparrow

Pooecetes gramineus

A rather chunky sparrow of the open fields, known at all seasons by its streaked appearance and its white outer tail feathers. In summer, its clear musical song may be heard at any time of day; but the naturalist John Burroughs, feeling that it sang most impressively in the evening, gave it the name of Vesper Sparrow. Not as shy as many grassland sparrows, it can be observed rather easily. It is often found dust-bathing in bare soil of fields or dirt roads.
Conservation status Has declined seriously in numbers in some parts of the East, probably owing to loss of habitat. In the West, still widespread and common.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Meadows, fields, prairies, roadsides. At all seasons, favors open grassy or weedy fields, often in rather dry situations with much open soil. May be in weedy roadsides, gravel pits, high mountain grasslands, stubble fields, grassy areas just above sandy beaches. Often breeds where there are a few taller plants for use as song perches.
A rather chunky sparrow of the open fields, known at all seasons by its streaked appearance and its white outer tail feathers. In summer, its clear musical song may be heard at any time of day; but the naturalist John Burroughs, feeling that it sang most impressively in the evening, gave it the name of Vesper Sparrow. Not as shy as many grassland sparrows, it can be observed rather easily. It is often found dust-bathing in bare soil of fields or dirt roads.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult male
  • juvenile
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly or entirely on the ground, often on bare soil between grass or weed clumps. Except during nesting season, often forages in small, loose flocks.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-6. Whitish to pale greenish white, blotched with brown and gray. Incubation is mostly by female, about 11-13 days. When disturbed at the nest, the female may flutter away as if injured, perhaps to lure intruders away. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest 1-2 weeks after hatching, usually around 9-10 days. 1-2 broods per year, sometimes 3.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest 1-2 weeks after hatching, usually around 9-10 days. 1-2 broods per year, sometimes 3.

Diet

Mostly insects and seeds. Feeds on many insects, especially in summer, including beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, moths, true bugs, and many others, also spiders and other invertebrates. Also eats many seeds, especially in winter, mainly those of weeds and grasses.


Nesting

Male defends nesting territory by singing from a prominent raised perch. Courtship may involve male running about on ground near female, with his wings and tail spread, sometimes fluttering into the air. Nest site is on the ground, often in a slight depression and placed at the base of a grass clump, weed, or shrub. Nest is a bulky open cup made of grass and weeds, lined with fine grass, rootlets, animal hair.

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

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

Migration

Migrates relatively early in spring and late in fall, with peak migration in many areas during April and October.

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Migration

Migrates relatively early in spring and late in fall, with peak migration in many areas during April and October.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Song a slow series of 4 clear musical notes, the last 2 higher, ending in a descending series of trills-sometimes rendered as come-come-where-where-all-together-down-the-hill.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
New World Sparrows Perching Birds

Vesper Sparrow

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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