Living Bird Magazine
Savannah SparrowPasserculus sandwichensis
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
Not all streaky brown birds are impossible to identify: Take a closer look at this one and you’ll see an understated but distinctive sparrow with a short tail, small head, and telltale yellow spot before the eye. Savannah Sparrows are one of the most numerous songbirds in North America, and while sometimes overlooked, are likely visitors across the continent. In summer, they don’t hesitate to advertise their location, belting out a loud, insect-like song from farm fields and grasslands.More ID Info
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Savannah Sparrows are inconspicuous birds with high, thin voices—but they’re common and widespread. Look for them in grassy areas within their range, the thicker the better. Males are conspicuous during breeding season, singing from perches like a fencepost or a lone shrub or tree on a grassland.
- Chingolo Sabanero (Spanish)
- Bruant des prés (French)
Savannah Sparrows are not feeder birds, though they may come to backyards that adjoin fields. But if you keep a brush pile on your property, you might see them swoop in and take cover during migration or over the winter.
- Cool Facts
- The Savannah Sparrow’s name sounds like a nod to its fondness for grassy areas, but this species was actually named by famed nineteenth century ornithologist Alexander Wilson for a specimen collected in Savannah, Georgia.
- Raising young is hard work: a female Savannah Sparrow must gather 10 times her weight in food to feed herself and her young during the 8 days they are in the nest.
- The "Ipswich Savannah Sparrow," a subspecies that breeds on Sable Island, Nova Scotia, is nearly 50 percent heavier than most other Savannah Sparrow subspecies. It is the palest race, and is found in winter in sand dunes along the Atlantic Coast. It was formerly considered a separate species.
- In many parts of the species' range, especially in coastal areas and islands, Savannah Sparrows tend very strongly to return each year to the area where they hatched. This tendency, called natal philopatry, is the driving force for differentiation of numerous Savannah Sparrow subspecies.
- The oldest known wild Savannah Sparrow was at least 6 years, 10 months old. It was banded in Michigan in 1939 and recaptured in the same state in 1945.