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Cassin's Sparrow

Peucaea cassinii ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Plain in plumage but distinctive in habits, the Cassin's Sparrow inhabits arid grasslands in the south-central United States and northern Mexico. Though furtive, the male performs dramatic territorial display flights while singing a sweet, far-carrying song.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
5.1–5.9 in
13–15 cm
Wingspan
7.9 in
20 cm
Weight
0.6–0.6 oz
17–18 g
Other Names
  • Bruant de Cassin (French)
  • Zacatonero de Cassin (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • In his display flight, the male Cassin's Sparrow flies straight up and then floats downward on fixed wings, singing the entire time. This behavior, distinctive among sparrows, is sometimes called "skylarking."
  • Cassin's Sparrow population numbers vary widely in response to summer rainfall. In some years singing males suddenly appear at the edge of the range where none usually breed. Just what causes these movements is unknown, but hypotheses include east-to-west migration, dispersal of birds that were unsuccessful breeding in another area, and nomadism.
  • Cassin's Sparrow has an unusual molt cycle. The juvenile molts twice in the first six months of life whereas the adult has a long body molt lasting several months, then a much quicker complete molt in fall.

Habitat


Grassland

Arid grasslands with scattered small trees and shrubs.

Food


Insects

Insects (during the breeding season) and seeds.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–5 eggs
Egg Description
White and unmarked.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless with tufts of gray down.
Nest Description

Open cup of grass and other fibers, lined with fine grasses and horsehair. Located on or near the ground in grass clump or low shrub.

Nest Placement

Ground

Behavior


Ground Forager

Territorial male Cassin's Sparrow flies up to a height of 2-6 meters (6.6-19.7 ft), or sometimes as high as 12-15 meters (39-49 ft), uttering quiet first notes of song. Then he floats down on stiff wings, with tail fanned and legs dangling, while completing the song.Feeds almost entirely on the ground.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Cassin's Sparrow populations are relatively stable, though may have experienced a decline between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 11 million, with 67% spending at least part of the year in the U.S., and 55% in Mexico. It is a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species, and rates an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Cassin's Sparrow is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. Grazing and clearing of land may threaten the species.

Credits

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