[order] Passeriformes | [family] Emberizidae | [latin] Passerculus sandwichensis | [UK] Savannah Sparrow | [FR] Bruant des prés | [DE] Grasammer | [ES] Sabanero Zanjero | [IT] Passero delle praterie | [NL] Savannahgors

Savannahgors determination

copyright: Robert Schaefer

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.

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.

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.)

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 a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 14,000,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 82,000,000 individuals (Rich et al. 2003). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from birdlife.org]

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.

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.