Savannah Sparrow

Passerculus sandwichensis

From meadows to marshland, and from temperate coastlines to tundra, the Savannah Sparrow is found in various open habitats throughout much of North America. It varies widely across its range, with 17 recognized subspecies.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • The "Ipswich Savannah Sparrow," a subspecies that breeds on Sable Island, Nova Scotia, is nearly 50 percent heavier than most other Savannah Sparrow subspecies. It is the palest race, and is found in winter in sand dunes along the Atlantic Coast. It was formerly considered a separate species.
  • In many parts of the species' range, especially in coastal areas and islands, Savannah Sparrows tend very strongly to return each year to the area where they hatched. This tendency, called natal philopatry, is the driving force for differentiation of numerous Savannah Sparrow subspecies.
  • Of the 17 recognized subspecies, 6 are resident or partially migratory in salt marshes in California and Mexico.
  • It is named after Savannah, Georgia, where one of the first specimens of this bird was collected.
  • A group of sparrows has many collective nouns, including a "crew", "flutter", "meinie", "quarrel", and "ubiquity" of sparrows.


Adult Description

  • Small songbird.
  • Brown or grayish-brown overall.
  • Streaking on back, breast, and flanks.
  • Yellowish eyebrow stripe.

Immature Description

Similar to adult, but buffier and with crown stripe indistinct.
Range Map
Taxonomic Hierarchy


© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Emberizidae
Genus: Passerculus
Species: Passerculus sandwichensis
  • Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi
  • Passerculus sandwichensis guttatus
  • Passerculus sandwichensis princeps
  • Passerculus sandwichensis rostratus
  • Passerculus sandwichensis sanctorum
  • Passerculus sandwichensis sandwichensis
Song consists of several short notes followed by two or more high, thin, long buzzes. Various calls include a sharp, high chip and a slow series of repeated notes.

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
  • Length Range: 13-16 cm (5.25-6.25 in)
  • Weight: 23 g (0.8 oz)
  • Size: Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Brown
  • Underparts: Buff to white with brown streaking.
  • Upperparts: Gray-brown with dark brown streaking.
  • Back Pattern: Striped or streaked
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Striped or streaked
  • Bill Shape: Cone
  • Eye Color: Dark brown, independent of sex or age.
  • Head Pattern: Eyeline, Striped, Streaked, Eyering, Malar or malar stripe
  • Crown Color: Gray-brown with dark brown streaking.
  • Forehead Color: Gray-brown with dark brown streaking.
  • Nape Color: Gray-brown with dark brown streaking.
  • Throat Color: White
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Alternates several rapid wing beats with wings pulled to sides.
  • Wingspan Range: 20-24 cm (8-9.5 in)
  • Wing Shape: Rounded-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Notched Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Dark Brown
  • Under Tail: Dark Brown
  • Leg Color: Pink
  • Breeding Location: Tundra, Grasslands, Prairies, shortgrass, Marshes, saltwater
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Solitary nester
  • Breeding Population: Abundant
  • Egg Color: Pale green blue or white with brown markings
  • Number of Eggs: 2 - 6
  • Incubation Days: 10 - 13
  • Egg Incubator: Both sexes
  • Nest Material: Grass and moss with lining of hair, feathers, and soft grasses.
  • Migration: Migratory
  • Condition at Hatching: Helpless and naked, with eyes closed. Bill yellow; mouth has pink corners and lining.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Bruant des prés (French)
  • Gorrión zanjero, Sabanero (Spanish)
  • Many birds of open country, including other sparrow species, are also brown and streaked.
  • Vesper Sparrow has a bold white eyering and white outer tail feathers.
  • Song Sparrow is larger, with a longer tail, a rounded tail tip, and a thick mustache stripe. Shows large chest spot, but Savannah can show one too.
  • Species of the genus Ammodramus, such as Grasshopper Sparrow and Baird's Sparrow, show buff tones in the face and breast, and have unnotched, often spiky tails

Conservation Status

In general, the Savannah Sparrow has probably expanded its range and thrived because of human-induced changes to the landscape. Coastal subspecies and other populations with narrow ranges may warrant special management priority because of their genetic distinctiveness and their limited habitats.


Sources used to Construct this Page:

Inhabits a wide range of open country, including meadows, agricultural fields, pastures, salt marshes, and tundra.The "Ipswich Savannah Sparrow" is found in all seasons almost exclusively in coastal marram grass communities.
  • Wheelwright, N. H., and J. D. Rising. 1993. Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis). In The Birds of North America, No. 45 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Insects, insect larvae, and other small arthropods. Also consumes seeds, especially outside the breeding season.
Feeds mostly on the ground, generally alone or, during the nonbreeding season, in small flocks.

Adult Sexes Similar

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Additional Photos & Video

Adult Sexes Similar


All photos © 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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