At a Glance
A grassland sparrow, breeding on the northern Great Plains, wintering locally in the Southwest. Audubon discovered this bird in 1843, and named it for the young Spencer Baird (who would later become a leading ornithologist). The bird then dropped out of sight, and was not seen again for almost 30 years. This kind of disappearing act seems appropriate for Baird's Sparrow, which runs through the grass like a mouse, almost never perching up in the open, and is very difficult to flush. On the nesting grounds, however, males will give a surprisingly musical song, much more attractive than those of related sparrows.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands
Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Running, Undulating
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Seldom detected during migration. Arrives on wintering areas during October and November, departs during April. Extremely rare stray east or west of normal migration route through prairies.
5-5 1/2" (13-14 cm). Short-tailed and flat-headed. Mustard yellow tinge on head, may show up as rich ocher stripe on center crown. Whitish below with necklace of dark streaks on chest. Streaky or scaly look on back.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Tan, White
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
3 short notes followed by a musical trill on a lower pitch.
Chirp/Chip, Trill, Whistle
Mostly native prairies. Breeds mainly in northern prairies with fairly tall grass and with scattered tall weeds or low bushes; also sometimes nests in fields of wheat or other crops. In migration and winter found mostly on shortgrass prairie and in weedy fields.
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4-5, sometimes 3-6. Grayish white, heavily spotted with reddish brown. Incubation is by the female only, about 11-12 days.
Both parents feed young (but the female may do more at first). Young leave the nest after about 8-10 days, before they are able to fly, and are fed by their parents for at least another 1-2 weeks. 1 brood per year.
Forages on the ground, moving about rather slowly among grass clumps. Almost always forages alone.
Mostly insects and seeds. Diet varies with season. In summer feeds mainly on insects, including grasshoppers, caterpillars, moths, beetles, leafhoppers, and others, as well as spiders and seeds. Young birds are fed mostly grasshoppers and caterpillars. Diet at other seasons is mostly seeds of weeds and grasses.
May nest in small, loose colonies. To defend nesting territory, male sings from the top of a tall grass stem, weed, or low bush. Courtship display of male may involve walking on ground, fluttering one wing at a time over his back, repeatedly bowing. Nest site is on the ground in a grassy area, well hidden and hard to find. Usually in a slight depression so the rim of the nest is level with the ground, sometimes tucked under a dense overhanging grass clump or built within the base of such a clump. Nest (probably built by the female) is a shallow open cup made of dry grass, sometimes with some weeds added; may be lined with fine grass, animal hair, moss.
Originally was a very common bird within its range, now uncommon and local. Loss of habitat on summer range (to farming) and winter range (to overgrazing) probably played a part in decline.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Baird's Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Baird's Sparrow
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.