At a Glance
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.
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
Coasts and Shorelines, Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Saltwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
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, Running
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
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.
4 1/2-6" (11-15 cm). Heavily streaked on chest, strong face pattern, narrow white central crown stripe. Often shows yellow in front of eye. Many local variations; extremes are blackish "Belding's" form (California salt marshes) and large, pale "Ipswich" form (Atlantic beaches in winter).
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, White, Yellow
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
High-pitched, buzzy tsip-tsip-tsip-se-e-e-srr.
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Hi, Trill
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some coastal marsh races have small populations and may be vulnerable to loss of habitat. Species as a whole is abundant and widespread.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Savannah Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Savannah 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.