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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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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

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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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.