- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
A rich, russet-and-gray bird with bold streaks down its white chest, the Song Sparrow is one of the most familiar North American sparrows. Don’t let the bewildering variety of regional differences this bird shows across North America deter you: it’s one of the first species you should suspect if you see a streaky sparrow in an open, shrubby, or wet area. If it perches on a low shrub, leans back, and sings a stuttering, clattering song, so much the better.More ID Info
Find This Bird
In spring and summer, Song Sparrows are one of the most conspicuous of all sparrows. Males sing often, perching around eye level on exposed branches. Also watch for Song Sparrows moving along wetland edges, ducking into dense, low vegetation after short bursts of their distinctive, tail-pumping flight.
- Chingolo Cantor (Spanish)
- Bruant chanteur (French)
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.
- Cool Facts
- The Song Sparrow is found throughout most of North America, but the birds of different areas can look surprisingly different. Song Sparrows of the Desert Southwest are pale, while those in the Pacific Northwest are dark and heavily streaked. Song Sparrows of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands chain are even darker, and they’re huge: one-third longer than the eastern birds, and weighing twice as much.
- The range of the Song Sparrow is continuous from the Aleutians to the eastern United States. There’s also an isolated population that lives on the plateau of central Mexico, about 900 miles from the next closest population. These Song Sparrows have white throats and chests with black streaks.
- Song Sparrows seem to have a clear idea of what makes a good nest. Field researchers working for many years on the same parcels of land have noticed that some choice spots – the base of a rose bush, or a particular hollow under a hummock of grass, for example – get used over and over again, even when entirely new birds take over the territory.
- Despite the large differences in size and coloration across the Song Sparrow’s range, genetic divergence is low. High rates of immigration and emigration may keep populations genetically similar, while local selective conditions maintain the physical differences.
- Like many other songbirds, the male Song Sparrow uses its song to attract mates as well as defend its territory. Laboratory studies have shown that the female Song Sparrow is attracted not just to the song itself, but to how well it reflects the ability of the male to learn. Males that used more learned components in their songs and that better matched their song tutors (the adult bird they learned their songs from) were preferred.
- Some scientists think that Song Sparrows of wet, coastal areas have darker plumage as a defense against feather mites and other decay agents that thrive in humid climates. The darker plumage contains more of a pigment called melanin, which makes feathers tougher and harder to degrade than lighter, unpigmented feathers.
- The Song Sparrow, like most other North American breeding birds, uses increasing day length as a cue for when to come into breeding condition. But, other cues can be important too, such as local temperature and food abundance. A study found that male Song Sparrows from the coast of Washington state came into breeding condition two months earlier than Song Sparrows in the nearby mountains, where the daylight changes were the same, but temperatures were cooler and trees budded out two months later.
- Song Sparrows often lay two or more clutches of eggs per breeding season. In exceptional circumstances, such as when resources are abundant or predation causes the loss of several clutches in a row, Song Sparrows have laid as many as seven clutches in a single breeding season, and have successfully reared up to four clutches.
- The oldest known Song Sparrow was at least 11 years, 4 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Colorado.