- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
Swamp Sparrows provide sweet accompaniment to spring mornings in boreal bogs, sedge swamps, cattail marshes, and wet brushy meadows. Their clear, mellifluous trills resonate through wetlands from central Canada to the eastern United States, where Swamp Sparrows are fairly common but often hidden among aquatic plants. A vivid rusty cap and wings, combined with subtler browns, grays, buff, and black of the body, simultaneously blend with their marshy habitats and make them gloriously attractive in earth tones.More ID Info
Find This Bird
To search for Swamp Sparrows, look for wetlands, even small ones, with tall reeds, sedges, or similar vegetation. In brackish or saltmarsh habitats, stick to the “high” marsh with scattered bushes, rather than the low marsh or water’s edge. Swamp Sparrows are normally hidden in these habitats but are quite approachable and can be coaxed into view with pishing and squeaking, often responding with a chink call note. During the nesting season, listen for the male’s song, a simple, rich, slow trill, delivered from a perch above the marsh grasses.
- Chingolo Pantanero (Spanish)
- Bruant des marais (French)
Even if your backyard doesn’t include a wetland, you might attract Swamp Sparrows during migration to any lush ground cover such as ferns, lilies, blueberries, or many other plants, particularly dense plantings in moist areas. Even brush piles will attract them. If you have room, consider making a small wetland in the backyard. Wetland gardens are becoming popular and can even be used to treat household wastewater safely. Habitat Network has more about creating water features in your yard.
- Cool Facts
- The Swamp Sparrow has longer legs than other members of its genus; this adaptation allows it to wade into shallow water to forage. This species even sometimes sticks its head under water to try to capture aquatic invertebrates.
- The Swamp Sparrow was first described to science in 1790 by John Latham, an English physician remembered as the “grandfather of Australian ornithology.” He named the species georgiana because the specimen he used for his description had come from the state of Georgia in the new United States of America.
- A Swamp Sparrow banded in eastern Massachusetts on October 4, 1937, was found in central Florida in January 1938, about 1,125 miles away. Before the development of tracking devices, banding returns such as this one helped clarify migration patterns for many bird species.
- Described first in 1951, the “Coastal Plain” Swamp Sparrow is a distinctive subspecies that nests from northern Virginia to southeastern New York. Ornithologists named it nigrescens because of its blackish nape, but it also has a larger bill and grayer plumage than the other two subspecies. Coastal plain birds, which nest in brackish marshes along rivers rather than in freshwater marshes, also lay one fewer egg, on average, than their more northerly or inland relatives.
- The oldest recorded Swamp Sparrow was at least 7 years, 10 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Maryland.