The Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) has a very broad geographic distribution that encompasses most of Canada and the United States south to (locally in the highlands) southern Mexico during either the breeding season or winter. This is among the most familiar birds in the northeastern and midwestern United States, where it is often seen singing heartily from a conspicuous perch or flying from bush to bush with a characteristic pumping tail motion. Numerous geographic subspecies have been described that vary substantially in size, bill shape, overall coloration and streaking (ranging from larger, darker birds in the Aleutians to smaller, paler ones in the deserts of the southwest). Song sparrows are found in thickets, in brush, around marshes, along roadsides, and in gardens.
Song sparrows feed mainly on insects and seeds (the latter especially in winter, mainly grass and "weed" seeds). In coastal marshes and on islands, Song Sparrows also feed on small crustaceans and mollusks and perhaps, rarely, even small fish.
Males often defend only a small nesting territory, so high densities may be present in good habitat. In courtship, the male may chase the female and may perform a fluttering flight among the bushes with neck outstretched and head held high.
Nests are typically constructed on the ground under a clump of grass or shrub or less than 1 m above the ground (although they may sometimes be 3 m or higher). The nest, which is constructed mostly or entirely by the female, is an open cup of weeds, grass, leaves, and bark strips lined with fine grass, rootlets, and animal hair. The typical clutch size is 4 eggs, but 3 or 5 eggs are common (rarely 2 or 6). The eggs are pale greenish white and heavily spotted with reddish brown. Incubation (for around 12 to 14 days) is apparently by the female only, although both sexes feed the nestlings. Young typically leave the nest around 10 to 12 days after hatching, but remain with their parents for around 3 weeks more.
In many parts of their range, Song Sparrows are year-round residents, but birds from the northern interior winter in the southern United States or extreme northern Mexico.
(Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998; Dunn and Alderfer 2011)
- American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American Birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
- Dunn, J.L. and J. Alderfer. 2011. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.
- Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
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