Song Sparrow Life History

Habitat

Habitat Open WoodlandsSong Sparrows are found in an enormous variety of open habitats, including tidal marshes, arctic grasslands, desert scrub, pinyon pine forests, aspen parklands, prairie shelterbelts, Pacific rain forest, chaparral, agricultural fields, overgrown pastures, freshwater marsh and lake edges, forest edges, and suburbs. You may also find Song Sparrows in deciduous or mixed woodlands.Back to top

Food

Food Insects

Song Sparrows eat many insects and other invertebrates in the summer, as well as seeds and fruits all year round. Prey include weevils, leaf beetles, ground beetles, caterpillars, dragonflies, grasshoppers, midges, craneflies, spiders, snails, and earthworms. Plant foods include buckwheat, ragweed, clover, sunflower, wheat, rice, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, and wild cherries. Food types vary greatly depending on what’s common across the Song Sparrow’s extensive range. In British Columbia, Song Sparrows have even been observed picking at the droppings of Glaucous-winged Gulls.

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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest ShrubSong Sparrow pairs search for nest sites together. Nest sites are usually hidden in grasses or weeds, sometimes placed on the ground and occasionally as high as 15 feet; often near water. Not afraid of human habitation, Song Sparrows may nest close to houses, in flower beds.

Nest Description

The female builds the nest, working mainly during the morning. It’s a simple, sturdy cup made of loose grasses, weeds, and bark on the outsides, then lined more tidily with grasses, rootlets, and animal hair. Construction takes about 4 days. The finished nest is 4-8 inches across (2-2.5 inches for the inside of the cup), and 2.5-4 inches deep.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:1-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1-7 broods
Egg Length:0.7-0.9 in (1.7-2.3 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.7 in (1.4-1.7 cm)
Incubation Period:12-15 days
Nestling Period:9-12 days
Egg Description:Blue, blue-green, or gray-green spotted with brown, red-brown, or lilac.
Condition at Hatching:Naked with sparse blackish down, eyes closed, clumsy.
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Behavior

Behavior Ground ForagerSong Sparrows walk or hop on the ground and flit or hop through branches, grass, and weeds. Song Sparrows stay low and forage secretively, but males come to exposed perches, including limbs of small trees, to sing. Courting birds fly together, fluttering their wings, with tails cocked up and legs dangling. Song Sparrows are primarily monogamous, but up to 20 percent of all Song Sparrows sire young with multiple mates each breeding season. In fall, juvenile Song Sparrows may band together in loose flocks around berry trees or water sources. Flight is direct and low on broad, rounded wings. Often flies only short distances between perches or to cover, characteristically pumping the tail downward as it flies.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernSong Sparrows are widespread and common across most of the continent, but populations declined by over 30% between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 130 million with 88% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 42% in Canada, and 6% in Mexico. The species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Song Sparrow is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. These birds have vanished from two islands off Southern California, the result of more frequent fires and introduced hares altering the sparrows’ habitat. Wetland losses in the San Francisco Bay area have meant declining populations of a saltmarsh race of the Song Sparrow in that area.Back to top

Backyard Tips

This species often comes to bird feeders. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

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Credits

Arcese, Peter, Mark K. Sogge, Amy B. Marr and Michael A. Patten. 2002. Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook. A Field Guide to the natural history of North American birds, including all species that regularly breed north of Mexico. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Partners in Flight. 2017. Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.

Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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