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Vesper Sparrow Life History



Vesper Sparrows breed in open areas with short, sparse grass and scattered shrubs including, old fields, pastures, weedy fencelines and roadsides, hayfields, and native grasslands. In the West, Vesper Sparrows breed in mountain meadows, grassy mesas, and sagebrush steppe up to 9,800 feet. They occupy similar habitats during migration and on the wintering grounds.

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Vesper Sparrows scratch the ground to uncover seeds of grasses, weeds, and grain crops. They also pick insects and spiders from low plants during the breeding season.

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Nest Placement


Vesper Sparrows nest on the ground in a shallow depression often under or next to clumps of vegetation, logs, or branches.

Nest Description

Females weave together a shallow cup of grasses, sedges, mosses, and strips of bark.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1-3 broods
Egg Length:0.8-0.9 in (1.9-2.3 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.7 in (1.3-1.7 cm)
Incubation Period:11-14 days
Nestling Period:7-14 days
Egg Description:

Whitish, with variable brown or purplish spots, streaks, and blotches.

Condition at Hatching:Helpless with sparse tufts of down.
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Ground Forager

Vesper Sparrows are ground-dwelling birds that hop and run through grasses and shrubs. They scratch the ground with their feet, sometimes scratching with both feet simultaneously to uncover seeds. They frequently take dust baths, puffing up and cleaning their feathers with dust. Males court females by running after them with their wings raised and periodically jumping into the air in song. They typically form monogamous bonds during the breeding season. Following the breeding season, they migrate south in small groups and forage with other sparrows including Savannah Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, Brewer's Sparrows, and Lark Buntings on the wintering grounds.

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Low Concern

Vesper Sparrows are common, but their populations declined by 30% between 1970 and 2014, according to Partners in Flight. The estimated global breeding population is 34 million. The species rates an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means it is not on the Partners in Flight Watch List and is a species of low conservation concern. Declines likely stem from grassland loss, removal of hedgerows, increases in the frequency of mowing and haying, and earlier harvests. Vesper Sparrow is listed as endangered, threatened, or of special conservation concern in several states. In the East, populations are declining as agricultural areas revert to forests. The Oregon population of Vesper Sparrow is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists distinct populations of birds that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Jones, Stephanie L. and John E. Cornely. (2002). Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love (2016). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2016.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

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

Pieplow, N. (2017). Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, NY, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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