Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)

Savannah Sparrow

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Emberizidae | [latin] Passerculus sandwichensis | [UK] Savannah Sparrow | [FR] Pinson des pres | [DE] Grasammer | [ES] Gorrion zanjero | [NL] Savannahgors


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Ammodramus sandwichensis
Passerculus sandwichensis NA, MA Canada to Guatemala
Passerculus sandwichensis alaudinus
Passerculus sandwichensis anulus
Passerculus sandwichensis athinus
Passerculus sandwichensis atratus
Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi
Passerculus sandwichensis brooksi
Passerculus sandwichensis brunnescens
Passerculus sandwichensis guttatus
Passerculus sandwichensis labradorius
Passerculus sandwichensis magdalenae
Passerculus sandwichensis nevadensis
Passerculus sandwichensis princeps
Passerculus sandwichensis rostratus
Passerculus sandwichensis sanctorum
Passerculus sandwichensis sandwichensis
Passerculus sandwichensis savanna
Passerculus sandwichensis wetmorei

Physical charateristics

The white underside of this sparrow is streaked with buff and brown across the breast. The back is streaked, and a little bit of rufous is visible on the wings. The head is brown and gray with a pale yellow eyebrow, which may or may not be visible. These birds have pinkish legs and bills and relatively short, notched tails. Western Washington breeders are darkly striped, while birds east of the Cascades and many migrants are paler. Some of the migrants found in Washington are of a larger-sized race that breeds in the Aleutians.

Listen to the sound of Savannah Sparrow

[audio: Sparrow.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 22 cm wingspan max.: 25 cm
size min.: 14 cm size max.: 16 cm
incubation min.: 10 days incubation max.: 13 days
fledging min.: 10 days fledging max.: 13 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 4  
      eggs max.: 5  


North America, Middle America : Canada to Guatemala


The Savannah Sparrow is found in open habitats ranging from grassy coastal dunes, to farmland, to sub-alpine meadows. They do not need shrubs for perches, and are absent from pristine shrub-steppe habitat. They inhabit relatively small patches of grassland, and will even use disturbed and weedy areas in the open. They are common in grassy areas around towns and at the edges of irrigated fields, especially mint or alfalfa.


The male sings to defend his territory and attract a mate. Polygyny is common in many populations, but many are monogamous. If both members of a pair survive, they are likely to re-pair in the following year. The female builds the nest on the ground, usually in a depression and well hidden in thick grass or under matted-down plants. Overhanging vegetation may act as a tunnel, giving the nest a side entrance. The nest itself is an open cup made of coarse grass and lined with finer grass. The female incubates the 4 to 5 eggs for 10 to 13 days. Both parents help brood and feed the young, which leave the nest at 10 to 12 days of age. The fledglings run short distances, but can’t fly well for another week or so. The parents continue to feed and tend the young until they are about three weeks old.

Feeding habits

Seeds and insects make up the Savannah Sparrow’s diet. These sparrows eat proportionally more insects during the breeding season and feed them to the young. During fall and winter, seeds and berries make up the vast majority of the diet. Coastal populations also eat some small crustaceans and mollusks.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Breeds in North America, from western Alaska east to northern Labrador and Newfoundland, south to central California, northern New Mexico, Nebraska, Kentucky, Maryland, and New Jersey; also in highlands of Mexico, and perhaps west Guatemala. (In north-east Siberia, breeds in eastern part of Chukotskiy peninsula.)
Savannah Sparrow status Least Concern


Great variation, from long-distance migrants (northern inland-breeding races) through short-distance and partial migrants (northern coastal and mid-latitude races) to altitudinal migrants (breeding in southern alpine areas) and residents (southern coastal races). Frequents only open grass/herb layer habitat at all seasons, so birds retreating from winter snow (covering plant seeds on which they feed) may move considerable distance before finding suitable habitat; wintering is south of or below snow-line. Winters in North America north to Nevada, Missouri, and Tennessee (continuing north to British Columbia on west coast, and to Nova Scotia east of Appalachians), and south through Mexico to Honduras; also in western West Indies. Highest numbers winter in southern states (west to Texas) and southern California.

Distribution map

Savannah Sparrow distribution range map

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