Overview

Brief Summary

Passerculus sandwichensis

A small (4 ½ -5 ¾ inches) bunting, the Savannah Sparrow is most easily identified by its mottled brown back, streaked breast and belly, and yellow eye-stripes. Numerous geographic races exist in this species’ wide range, some much paler or darker on the back and head than the typical race. Male and female Savannah Sparrows are similar to one another in all seasons. The Savannah Sparrow breeds across Alaska, Canada, and the northern half of the United States. In winter, most populations migrate south to the southern half of the United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America. Populations breeding in coastal California, Baja California, and central Mexico are non-migratory. Savannah Sparrows breed in open and semi-open habitats, including grassland, marshes, agricultural fields, and tundra. Similar habitat types are utilized in winter as in summer. Savannah Sparrows primarily eat insects in summer, switching over to seeds and grains during the winter. In appropriate habitat, Savannah Sparrows may be observed foraging for food on the ground below shrubs and grasses. Birdwatchers may also listen for this species’ song, a whistling “tsit-tsit-tsit tseee-tsaaay,” in order to separate it from other drab grassland birds. Savannah Sparrows are most active during the day, but, like many migratory songbirds, this species migrates at night.

Threat Status: Least Concern

  • Passerculus sandwichensis. Xeno-canto. Xeno-canto Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • Peterson, Roger Tory. Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. Print.
  • Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis). The Internet Bird Collection. Lynx Edicions, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • Wheelwright, N. T. and J. D. Rising. 2008. Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/045
  • eBird Range Map - Savannah Sparrow. eBird. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, N.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
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Distribution

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Breeding

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDING: northern Alaska and northern Canada south of arctic islands east to northern Labrador and Newfoundland, south through the western U.S. and Mexico (locally) to southwestern Guatemala, and south to southern Iowa and New Jersey (AOU 1983). NON-BREEDING: southern British Columbia, southern Nevada, Gulf states, and Massachusetts to northern Honduras and West Indies (AOU 1983). RESIDENT: Pacific Coast from central California south to Baja California Sur and Gulf of California Coast from Sonora south to central Sinaloa (Wheelwright and Rising 1993). Accidental in Hawaii.

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Physical Description

Size

Length: 14 cm

Weight: 25 grams

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Diagnostic Description

Differs from song sparrow (MELOSPIZA MELODIA) by usually having a yellowish eyebrow stripe, whitish crown stripe, short notched tail (vs. long and rounded), and pinker legs (Peterson 1990). Lacks the white outer tail feathers of the vesper sparrow (POOECETES GRAMINEUS).

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Comments: BREEDING: Prefers habitat with short to intermediate vegetation height, intermediate vegetation density, and a well developed litter layer. These preferred habitats cover a wide range of vegetation types, including alpine and arctic tundra, coastal salt marshes, sedge bogs, grassy meadows, and native prairie (Wheelwright and Rising 1993).

In North American grasslands, occupies tallgrass prairie, idle and lightly grazed mixed-grass prairie, shortgrass, wet meadow zones surrounding prairie wetlands, alfalfa (MEDICAGO SATIVA)/brome (BROMUS spp.) hayfields, native and tame dense nesting cover (DNC), Conservation Reserve Program lands, weedy crop and stubble fields, retired cropland, and wheat fields (Stewart 1975; Salt and Salt 1976; Renken 1983; Dale 1993; Hartley 1994; Johnson and Igl 1995; Patterson and Best 1996; Prescott and Murphy 1995, 1996). Although occasionally breeds in cropland, is more abundant in idle native, DNC, and Conservation Reserve Program lands (Hartley 1994, Johnson and Igl 1995, Patterson and Best 1996). In Illinois, found in mixed and pure stands of hay, pastures, and idle grasslands, but reached highest densities in pastures and idle grasslands (Graber and Graber 1963). In Wisconsin and Ohio, abundance was positively correlated to percent herbaceous vegetation cover (Sample 1989, Swanson et al. 1997). In North Dakota and Saskatchewan, abundance was positively correlated with percent grass cover (Renken 1983, Renken and Dinsmore 1987, Sutter 1996). However, at a less arid site in Saskatchewan, abundance was negatively correlated to percent grass cover (Sutter 1996).

Most abundant on Conservation Reserve Program fields with high percent grass and low percent legume cover in the northern Great Plains (Johnson and Schwartz 1993). In Oregon and Nevada, Rotenberry and Wiens (1980) found a positive correlation between abundance and percent forb cover. In Wisconsin, abundance was negatively correlated to maximum vegetation height and vegetation height-density (Sample 1989). Wiens (1969, 1973) stated that low, dense vegetation was required for nest sites; grass-dominated habitats with little forb cover are preferred (Wiens 1969, 1973; Welsh 1975; Knight 1989; Vickery et al. 1992). In Wisconsin, avoided habitats with tall, dense vegetation and nested primarily in managed or disturbed habitats such as pastures and hayfields (Sample 1989). In Michigan, nested in hayfields of clover (MELILOTIS and TRIFOLIUM spp.), alfalfa, brome (BROMUS spp.), and timothy (PHLEUM PRATENSE), and in clumps of grass near cow pies in an overgrazed pasture (George 1952). In Maine, nesting birds in areas of mainly forb and shrub cover experienced lower reproductive success than those nesting in predominantly grass cover (Vickery et al. 1992). In Quebec, vegetation height did not differ between nest sites and random points, but successful nests were surrounded by taller vegetation than unsuccessful nests (Bedard and LaPointe 1984).

Avoids areas with extensive tree cover (Wheelwright and Rising 1993). Wiens (1969) noted that most breeding territories were located in the center of grassland habitats, away from cultivated fields and fence lines, and Sample (1989) found a negative correlation between abundance and percent shrub cover. In North Dakota, were found only on shrubless transects (Arnold and Higgins 1986). In Wyoming sagebrush steppe, were observed only on burned and herbicide treated areas with fewer shrubs and more grass and forb cover (Kerley and Anderson 1995). In West Virginia, nesting territory often included small trees, shrubs, and fence posts (Shields 1935). In Saskatchewan, nested in or near clumps of sparse western snowberry (SYMPHORICARPOS OCCIDENTALIS) shrubs (Lein 1968). Although total woody cover in habitats used for nesting was low (< 1 percent), Sample (1989) reported that the birds often used small trees and shrubs (< 2 m tall), fence posts and wire, and tall herbaceous stems as song perches.

NON-BREEDING: In migration, open fields, roadsides, dunes, coastal marshes, edges of ponds, and rarely in open woodlands (Wheelwright and Rising 1993). In winter, cultivated fields, pastures, golf courses, roadsides, dunes, and salt marshes (Wheelwright and Rising 1993).

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Breeding populations throughout Canada and most of U.S. are long-distance migrants; arrive on nesting grounds in the northern and central U.S. and Canada in March-April, in far north late May-early June; departs far northern nesting areas usually by late August (Johnson and Herter 1989). Begins to arrive in the southeastern U.S. during the last week of September, with numbers increasing throughout the fall and reaching peak densities by mid-December; numbers are relatively stable until late March, when an abrupt decline begins; only a few scattered birds remain through late April and early May. Nonmigratory or local migrant in parts of west coast. Subspecies ROSTRATUS breeds along north and east coasts of the Gulf of California, many migrate north to winter in southwestern California (Zink et al. 1991). Subspecies PRINCEPS breeds on Sable Island, Nova Scotia, and winters on dune beaches of the Middle Atlantic states (McLaren, 1979 COSEWIC report).

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: During summer eats insects, spiders, and snails; breeding adults ate average of 18-21 g of fresh arthropods daily (Williams 1987). Feeds on seeds of primarily herbaceous plants at other times of year. Forages on ground, sometimes scratches. Adults feed arthropods to young (Meunier and Bedard 1984).

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300

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Global Abundance

10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals

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General Ecology

Territories are small, ranging from 0.05 to 1.25 hectares (George 1952, Lein 1968, Wiens 1969, Potter 1972, Welsh 1975, Piehler 1987, Wheelwright and Rising 1993).

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Life History and Behavior

Life Expectancy

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 6.8 years (wild)
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Reproduction

Arrive on the breeding grounds between late March and early May, and begin nesting in May (George 1952, Baird 1968, Lein 1968, Maher 1973, Welsh 1975, Bedard and LaPointe 1984b, Wheelwright and Rising 1993). In North Dakota, breed from late May through late July, with peak breeding occurring from early June to mid-July (Stewart 1975). If the first nesting attempt fails, will renest, and many females produce a second clutch after a successful first nest (George 1952, Lein 1968, Taber 1968, Wiens 1969, Weatherhead 1979, Wheelwright and Rising 1993). In northern areas, may be limited to a single brood (Maher 1973, Weatherhead 1979).

In Saskatchewan, departed from breeding territories in early August, but remained in the area, foraging in weedy fields, along road edges, and along the margins of lakes and sloughs (Lein 1968). Fall migration occurs in mid- to late September (George 1952, Maher 1973).

In the Canadian Maritimes, male and female are philopatric (Bedard and LaPointe 1984b, Wheelwright and Rising 1993). Philopatry to breeding territories in Newfoundland is high; 95 percent of surviving males and 90 percent of surviving females return to within 40 meters of territories from a previous year (Wheelwright and Rising 1993). There is no information on philopatry in the Great Plains, and philopatry of grassland birds in the Great Plains may be low (Wiens 1974, Johnson 1996). Polygyny is common in populations residing in the Canadian Maritimes, but populations in other portions of the species range are generally monogamous (Welsh 1975, Wheelwright and Rising 1993).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Passerculus sandwichensis

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 22 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNGGTACCGCCCTAAGCCTCCTCATTCGAGCTGAACTAGGCCAACCTGGAGCCCTTCTAGGGGACGACCAAGTGTACAACGTAGTCGTCACAGCCCATGCTTTCGTAATAATTTTCTTCATAGNCATGCCTATCATAATCGGAGGATTCGGTAACTGACTAGTCCCTCTAAAAATCGGAGCCCCAGACATAGCATTCCCACGAATAAATAACATAAGCTTCTGACTACTCCCCCCATCCTTCCTCCTCCTCCTAGCATCCTCCACCGTAGAAGCAGGCGTAGGTACAGGCTGAACAGTATACCCCCCTCTAGCTGGCAACCTAGCCCACGCCGGAGCCTCAGTTGACCTCGCAATCTTCTCCCTACACCTAGCCGGTATCTCTTCAATCCTAGGGGCAATCAACTTCATCACCACAGCAATCAACATAAAACCTCCTGCCCTCTCACAATACCAAACCCCTCTATTTGTATGATCAGTCCTAATCACCGCAGTTCTCCTACTCCTATCCCTCCCAGTCCTTGCTGCGGGAATCACAATACTCCTCACAGACCGCAACCTCAACACCACATTCTTCGACCCCGCTGGAGGAGGGGACCCCGTCCTATACCAACACCTCTTCTGATTCTTCGGACACCCAGAAGTTTATATCCTAATCCTC
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Passerculus sandwichensis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 22
Specimens with Barcodes: 25
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
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.

History
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Not Recognized (NR)
  • Not Recognized (NR)
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