At a Glance
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.
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, Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flitter
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
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.
5-6" (13-15 cm). Contrasting face colors: buff "whisker," gray eyebrow, brown cheeks and crown. Rich buff chest has narrow black streaks. (Caution: juvenile Song Sparrows in summer can be buffy, with narrow streaks.)
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Gray, Tan, White
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
A rich, gurgling, wren-like song rising in the middle and dropping abruptly at the end.
Chirp/Chip, Trill, Whistle
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.
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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.
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.
Forages mostly while hopping on the ground, typically under or close to dense thickets.
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
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.
Still widespread and common.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Lincoln's Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Lincoln'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.