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Nelson's Sparrow Identification

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The Four Keys to ID

  • Size & Shape

    A medium-sized sparrow with a short conical bill, plump body, and a rather short tail in which the individual feathers often appear spiky at the tips.

    Relative Size

    Larger than a Common Yellowthroat, smaller than a Song Sparrow.

    Relative Sizesparrow or smallersparrow-sized or smaller

    • Both Sexes
      • Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
      • Weight: 0.6-0.7 oz (17-21 g)
      • Wingspan: 6.5-7.9 in (16.5-20 cm)

Regional Differences

Three subspecies are recognized: nelsoni (Yukon to Minnesota), alter (Hudson Bay to James Bay), and subvirgata (Canadian Maritimes to Massachusetts). The very similar-looking nelsoni and alter forms show very few genetic differences, whereas the pale subvirgata (known as the “Atlantic” or “Acadian” form) is genetically quite different from both and from Saltmarsh Sparrow; it is potentially a separate species.