A medium-sized (5 ½ inches) bunting, Lincoln’s Sparrow is most easily identified by streaked brown back, gray breast, white throat, and reddish-brown cap. This species may be separated from the highly similar Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) by its buff flanks streaked with brown. Male and female Lincoln’s Sparrows are similar to one another in all seasons. Lincoln’s Sparrow breeds across much of Alaska, Canada, and the northern tier of the United States, extending southward at higher elevations in the western U.S.as far as Arizona. In winter, this species migrates south to the Pacific coast of the U.S., the desert southwest, portions of the central U.S.from Texas to Alabama, and south into Mexico and Central America. On migration, Lincoln’s Sparrows may be found elsewhere in North America, including in the northeast, southeast, and Midwest. Lincoln’s Sparrows breed in wet northern forests, primarily in and around bogs. In winter, this species may be found in dry deserts, grasslands, and tropical forests. Lincoln’s Sparrows primarily eat insects in summer, but switch to seeds, berries, and fruits in winter when insects may be unavailable. Lincoln’s Sparrows may be most easily seen walking or hopping on the ground while foraging for food. This species takes short, straight flights between areas of vegetation cover, ordinarily staying close to the tops of bushes or grasses. This species is primarily active during the day.
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: BREEDING: western and central Alaska and Mackenzie across Canada through northern Saskatchewan to Labrador, south to southern California, southwestern U.S., southern Alberta, central Saskatchewan, central Michigan, New England, and Nova Scotia. NON-BREEDING: southern U.S. south regularly to Honduras, casually to central Panama; West Indies.
Length: 15 cm
Weight: 17 grams
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Bogs, wet meadows, riparian thickets, shrubby forest edge, marshes, brushy fields; mostly in northern and montane areas. Also jack pine plain barrens. BREEDING: Nests on ground in area of concealing vegetation; sometimes in low bush.
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No 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.
Migrates north through most of U.S. in April-May (Terres 1980).
Comments: Eats insects, seeds, grain; forages on ground under grass and brush (Terres 1980, Stiles and Skutch 1989).
Breeding territory about 0.4 ha (Terres 1980).
Life History and Behavior
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Clutch szie 3-6 (usually 4-5). Probably sometimes 2 broods per year. Incubation about 13 days, by female. Young tended by both parents, leave nest at 10-12 days.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Melospiza lincolnii
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.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Melospiza lincolnii
Public Records: 27
Specimens with Barcodes: 30
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B,N5N : N5B: Secure - Breeding, N5N: Secure - Nonbreeding
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Lincoln's sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) is a medium-sized sparrow.
Adults have dark-streaked olive-brown upperparts with a light brown breast with fine streaks, a white belly, and a white throat. They have a brown cap with a grey stripe in the middle, olive-brown wings, and a narrow tail. Their face is grey with brown cheeks, a brown line through the eye, and an eye ring. They are somewhat similar in appearance to the song sparrow.
Their breeding habitat is wet thickets or shrubby bogs across Canada, Alaska, and the northeastern and western United States; this bird is less common in the eastern parts of its range. The nest is a well-concealed shallow open cup on the ground under vegetation.
They forage on the ground in dense vegetation, mainly eating insects and seeds.
They are very secretive. Their song is a musical trill, but this bird is often not seen or heard even where they are common.
This bird was named by Audubon after his friend, Thomas Lincoln, of Dennysville, Maine. Lincoln shot the bird on a trip with Audubon to Nova Scotia in 1834, and Audubon named it "Tom's Finch" in his honor.
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