Overview

Brief Summary

Melospiza georgiana

A medium-sized (5-5 ¾ inches) bunting, the Swamp Sparrow is most easily identified by mottled-brown back, gray breast, white throat, and reddish-brown cap. Other field marks include dull pink legs, a squared-off tail, and a gray, conical bill. Male and female Swamp Sparrows are similar to one another in all seasons. The Swamp Sparrow breeds across a wide area of southern Canada and the northern United States. In winter, this species vacates much of the northern part of its breeding range, wintering in the southeastern U.S., along the Pacific coast from Vancouver Island to southern California, in the desert southwest, and in northern Mexico. Swamp Sparrows are present all year in portions of the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, but birds which breed here are displaced south in winter by more northerly-breeding populations. As might be expected, Swamp Sparrows breed in a variety of freshwater wetland habitats, including swamps. This species utilizes similar kinds of wet habitats during the winter. Swamp Sparrows primarily eat insects in summer, but switch to seeds, berries, and fruits in winter when insects may be unavailable. In appropriate habitat, Swamp Sparrows may most easily be seen foraging for food along the water’s edge. There, individuals may be seen picking food off of the mud or, unusually for a songbird, will wade in the water to find prey. Males may also be observed singing this species’ trilling song from prominent perches. Swamp Sparrows are primarily active during the day.

Threat Status: Least Concern

  • Melospiza georgiana. Xeno-canto. Xeno-canto Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • Mowbray, Thomas B. 1997. Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana), 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/279
  • Peterson, Roger Tory. Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. Print.
  • Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana). The Internet Bird Collection. Lynx Edicions, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • eBird Range Map - Swamp Sparrow. eBird. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, N.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
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Distribution

The summer range of the Swamp Sparrow includes the eastern half of the Northern United States south to Missouri, Ohio, and Maryland, and a large portion of Canada from Newfoundland west to the Rockies.

The winter populations concentrate in the eastern United States from Texas, the Gulf Coast, and Florida north to Iowa, the southern Great Lakes, and Massachusetts.(McPeek 1994)

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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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: BREEDING: Mackenzie to northern Saskatchewan and Labrador, south to British Columbia, central Saskatchewan, Dakotas, eastern Nebraska, central Ohio, and Delaware. NON-BREEDING: eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Great Lakes region, and southern New England south to southeastern Arizona, southern Texas, Gulf Coast, southern Florida.

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Geographic Range

The summer range of the Swamp Sparrow includes the eastern half of the Northern United States south to Missouri, Ohio, and Maryland, and a large portion of Canada from Newfoundland west to the Rockies.

The winter populations concentrate in the eastern United States from Texas, the Gulf Coast, and Florida north to Iowa, the southern Great Lakes, and Massachusetts.(McPeek 1994)

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

The adult breeding male has a blackish forehead with a pale grey median stripe which often extends back as a narrow indistinct pale median crown-stripe. The rest of the crown is quite bright rufous, often with some fine black streaking, and with narrow black edges on the lateral crown. The Swamp Sparrow has a broad grey supercilium and slightly buffier-grey lores and ear-coverts. The eye ring is pale greyish-white. The eye stripe (from behind the eye) and narrow moustachial stripe (reaching to the base of the bill) is blackish-brown, framing the ear-coverts. The submoustachial stripe is whitish, and there is a narrow malar stripe that is blackish. The nape and neck-sides are greyish, with darker fine streaks. The mantle and scapulars are dull rufous-brown, heavily streaked black and also finely streaked with pale straw/buff. The rump and uppertail-coverts are more olive-brown, the uppertail-coverts have broad, well-defined black central streaks. The lesser coverts are chestnut. The greater and median coverts are blackish with broad chestnut feather edges. The greater coverts also have a narrow buff tip. Alula and primary coverts are blackish-brown with the alula having a narrow white edge. Flight feathers are blackish with narrow grey edges to primaries, narrow rufous edges to outer secondaries and broader rufous edges to inner secondaries. The tertials are blackish with rufous edges, becoming buffy-white round the tip. The tail is rufous-brown with pale buff feather edges. The throat is whitish. The breast is grey with a few fine dark streaks, occasionally merging to form an obscure central spot. The belly is greyish-white and the flanks and undertail-coverts are buff, with the flanks having obscure darker streaks. The iris is dark reddish-brown. The bill is dusky-grey with mid-flesh lower mandible. The legs are flesh.

The adult breeding female is very similar to the male and not always distinguishable, but tends to have less extensive rufous crown which is more heavily streaked with blackish. The differences are most noticeable in mated pairs.

The non-breeding adult is similar to the breeding adult but the head is rather duller, the crown is noticeable less rufous and more heavily streaked black, often with a narrow pale grey median stripe. The ear-coverts also tend to be buffier. The sexes are generally indistinguishable, or monomorphic.

The first year nonbreeding is similar to the non-breeding adult but noticeably less grey and rufous on head. The crown has very little or no rufous and the narrow median stripe may be buffier. The supercilium and nape are brwonish- or buffy-grey, not pure grey.

The juvenile is much buffier overall with black streaking on the crown, nape, neck-sides, breat and flanks as well as mantle and scapuolars. The streaking on the crown is usually quite heavy but can be noticeably finer than that on the upperparts. The bill is flesh at first rapidly becoming the adult's. Inside of the mouth is yellow to yellowish-white.(Byers 1995)

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Average mass: 14.9 g.

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.211 W.

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Physical Description

The adult breeding male has a blackish forehead with a pale grey median stripe which often extends back as a narrow indistinct pale median crown-stripe. The rest of the crown is quite bright rufous, often with some fine black streaking, and with narrow black edges on the lateral crown. The Swamp Sparrow has a broad grey supercilium and slightly buffier-grey lores and ear-coverts. The eye ring is pale greyish-white. The eye stripe (from behind the eye) and narrow moustachial stripe (reaching to the base of the bill) is blackish-brown, framing the ear-coverts. The submoustachial stripe is whitish, and there is a narrow malar stripe that is blackish. The nape and neck-sides are greyish, with darker fine streaks. The mantle and scapulars are dull rufous-brown, heavily streaked black and also finely streaked with pale straw/buff. The rump and uppertail-coverts are more olive-brown, the uppertail-coverts have broad, well-defined black central streaks. The lesser coverts are chestnut. The greater and median coverts are blackish with broad chestnut feather edges. The greater coverts also have a narrow buff tip. Alula and primary coverts are blackish-brown with the alula having a narrow white edge. Flight feathers are blackish with narrow grey edges to primaries, narrow rufous edges to outer secondaries and broader rufous edges to inner secondaries. The tertials are blackish with rufous edges, becoming buffy-white round the tip. The tail is rufous-brown with pale buff feather edges. The throat is whitish. The breast is grey with a few fine dark streaks, occasionally merging to form an obscure central spot. The belly is greyish-white and the flanks and undertail-coverts are buff, with the flanks having obscure darker streaks. The iris is dark reddish-brown. The bill is dusky-grey with mid-flesh lower mandible. The legs are flesh.

The adult breeding female is very similar to the male and not always distinguishable, but tends to have less extensive rufous crown which is more heavily streaked with blackish. The differences are most noticeable in mated pairs.

The non-breeding adult is similar to the breeding adult but the head is rather duller, the crown is noticeable less rufous and more heavily streaked black, often with a narrow pale grey median stripe. The ear-coverts also tend to be buffier. The sexes are generally indistinguishable, or monomorphic.

The first year nonbreeding is similar to the non-breeding adult but noticeably less grey and rufous on head. The crown has very little or no rufous and the narrow median stripe may be buffier. The supercilium and nape are brwonish- or buffy-grey, not pure grey.

The juvenile is much buffier overall with black streaking on the crown, nape, neck-sides, breat and flanks as well as mantle and scapuolars. The streaking on the crown is usually quite heavy but can be noticeably finer than that on the upperparts. The bill is flesh at first rapidly becoming the adult's. Inside of the mouth is yellow to yellowish-white.(Byers 1995)

Average mass: 14.9 g.

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.211 W.

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Size

Length: 15 cm

Weight: 17 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Swamp Sparrow are commonly found in open wetlands such as cattail and sedge marshes, shrubby wetlands, and other similar habitats. They can be found occasionally in lake and streamside marshes. (MsPeek 1994)

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

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Comments: BREEDING: Marshes, wet brushy fields, meadows, lakeshores, stream borders, swamps, pine barrens shrub-sedge bogs; also brackish marshes along mid-Atlantic coast (Greenberg and Droege 1990). Nests in tussock of grass, sedge, or in low bush, commonly over water. NON-BREEDING: In migration and winter also in weedy fields, brush, thickets, scrub, and forest edge (AOU 1998).

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Swamp Sparrow are commonly found in open wetlands such as cattail and sedge marshes, shrubby wetlands, and other similar habitats. They can be found occasionally in lake and streamside marshes. (MsPeek 1994)

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

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Migration

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.

Arrives in nesting areas in Canada and northern U.S. usually in March-April (Terres 1980); subspecies NIGRESCENS arrives in coastal mid-Atlantic breeding areas in mid-May, apparently departs by September-October (Greenberg and Droege 1990).

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Trophic Strategy

The swamp sparrow is the most highly insectivorous species in its genus. Its diet is 55 percent insect in winter and 88 percent insects in spring and early summer. By late summer and into fall the diet changes to 84 percent to 97 percent granivorous, with seeds of sedges, smartweed, panicgrass, and vervain being the most common sources. (Austin 1968)

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Comments: Eats insects and seeds; often forages in shallow water (Terres 1980).

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Food Habits

The swamp sparrow is the most highly insectivorous species in its genus. Its diet is 55 percent insect in winter and 88 percent insects in spring and early summer. By late summer and into fall the diet changes to 84 percent to 97 percent granivorous, with seeds of sedges, smartweed, panicgrass, and vervain being the most common sources. (Austin 1968)

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
71 months.

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Lifespan/Longevity

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
71 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 6.3 years (wild)
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Reproduction

Swamp Sparrows breeds emergent vegetation in freshwater marshes, bogs, swamps, and wet meadows. It also breeds in low swampy shores of lakes and streams and rarely in coastal brackish meadows.

The nests are about a foot above water in low brush, grass tussock, or sedge; often over the water that is about two feet deep. They have a bulky construction foundation, averaging 40 inches in outside diameter, and a smaller inside nest cup, averaging 2.4 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches in depth. The foundation is made from tightly woven coarse dead marsh grasses. The inner cup is made of fine round grasses.

The swamp Sparrow lays four or five slightly glossy, pale green to greenish-white eggs marked with reddish-brown scrawls. Two clutches are laid each year. If a clutch is destroyed by flooding or predation another clutch will be laid.

Incubation is done by the female and lasts 12-15 days.

(Austin 1968)

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Average time to hatching: 13 days.

Average eggs per season: 4.

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Clutch size 2-6 (usually 4-5 in most areas). Usually 2 broods per year. Incubation 12-15 days, by female. Young leave nest at 9-13 days.

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Swamp Sparrows breeds emergent vegetation in freshwater marshes, bogs, swamps, and wet meadows. It also breeds in low swampy shores of lakes and streams and rarely in coastal brackish meadows.

The nests are about a foot above water in low brush, grass tussock, or sedge; often over the water that is about two feet deep. They have a bulky construction foundation, averaging 40 inches in outside diameter, and a smaller inside nest cup, averaging 2.4 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches in depth. The foundation is made from tightly woven coarse dead marsh grasses. The inner cup is made of fine round grasses.

The swamp Sparrow lays four or five slightly glossy, pale green to greenish-white eggs marked with reddish-brown scrawls. Two clutches are laid each year. If a clutch is destroyed by flooding or predation another clutch will be laid.

Incubation is done by the female and lasts 12-15 days.

(Austin 1968)

Average time to hatching: 13 days.

Average eggs per season: 4.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Melospiza georgiana

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


There are 10 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.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNAGTACCGCCCTAAGCCTCCTCATTCGAGCGGAACTAGGCCAACCTGGAGCTCTCCTAGGAGACGACCAAGTATACAACGTAGTCGTCACAGCCCATGCTTTCGTAATGATTTTCTTCATAGTCATGCCAATTATAATCGGAGGGTTTGGAAACTGACTAGTCCCCCTAATAATTGGAGCCCCAGACATAGCATTCCCACGAATAAACAACATAAGCTTCTGACTACTCCCCCCATCCTTCCTCCTCCTCCTAGCATCATCCACCGTAGAAGCAGGCGTAGGCACAGGCTGAACGGTTTACCCCCCATTAGCTGGCAACCTAGCTCATGCCGGAGCCTCAGTCGACCTCGCAATCTTCTCTCTACACCTAGCCGGCATCTCCTCAATTCTAGGAGCAATCAACTTCATCACTACAGCAATCAACATAAAACCCCCCGCCCTCTCACAATATCAAACCCCCCTATTCGTATGATCCGTCCTTATCACCGCAGTTCTCCTACTCCTATCCCTTCCAGTTCTCGCCGCAGGCATCACAATACTCCTCACAGACCGCAACCTCAATACCACATTCTTCGACCCCGCTGGAGGAGGAGACCCAGTCCTATACCAGCACCTCTTCTGATTCTTCGGACACCCAGAAGTCTACATCCTGATCCTC
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Melospiza georgiana

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 10
Specimens with Barcodes: 16
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 increasing, 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)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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