Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia)

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Photo Credit: Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

In the last two days I have spotted two song sparrows. One was in the bare branches of a trees singing its’ sweet melody. The next time was on the ground under one of the bird feeders in my garden. The Sparrow was hopping around on the ground picking up the seeds the House Sparrows threw down.

Song Sparrows live in the Philadelphia area year-around, but they are quiet in winter. They are often mixed in with a flock of House Sparrows. You have to look hard to spot them among the similarly brown, cream and gray of the House Sparrows.

Song Sparrows often show up at feeders during spring migration. Just one or two birds are seen at a feeder at a time. They don’t seem to travel in large groups (gangs) like the House Sparrows.

Song Sparrows are known for their lovely song. It is crystal clear in the still chilly early spring air. Follow the link below to hear a recording of the sweet song of the Song Sparrow. It may be a song you have heard but not known who sang it.

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/song_sparrow/id or watch the video. Thank you to Tstormer on YouTube, who filmed the bird singing.

Song Sparrow Field Guide

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) Order: Passerines

Appearance: heavily streaked brown breast with a dark central spot; grayish face; Colors of browns, creams and grays. There are thirty-one recognized subspecies of Song Sparrows, more sub-species than any other North American bird.

Song: a clear “sweet, sweet, sweet”, and finishes with a buzz or twill.

Size: 5 1/2 – 7 in. long

Habitat:  Overgrown grassy areas, thickets or abandoned pasture land often near water

Best places to see: Song Sparrows are widespread across Pennsylvania

Eats: Invertebrates (insects, spiders, cutworms, beetles, grasshoppers, ants) in breeding season , seeds, wild fruit and visits feeders at other times. Feeds insects to young.

Favorite feeder food: mixed seed and millet. small, easily eaten seeds, searches on the ground or platform feeders

Feeder behavior: May only be seen at feeders during spring migration. Usually doesn’t visit feeders in groups, but in ones or twos.

Migration: Song Sparrows are year-round residents in Pennsylvania. More northern birds may move into the area to overwinter. The species migrates short distances.

Winter: Winters in the lower 48 states; mild winters in the lower southern half of Pennsylvania have enticed more Song Sparrows to winter in the state; winters in brushy thickets and harvested corn fields. Habitat needs in winter are simple, just a few shrubs, some song perches and a source of open water.

Breeds: breeds statewide and abundantly in Pennsylvania from mid-M to early December; three or four broods a season

Nests: an open cup-shaped nest on the ground in grasses, sedges and cattails, later season nests are often located in trees or bushes up to 12 feet above the ground. On rare occasions Song Sparrows nest in cavities.

Eggs: plain or greenish white, heavily dotted and blotched with reddish-brown; three to five eggs are laid in each clutch; Female incubates the eggs for 11-14 days.

Broods: Song Sparrows may raise two or three broods a season,sometimes using the same nest repeatedly. Both sexes care for the young. Young fledge in 5 -19 days.

Notes: The Song Sparrow (except for the Yellow Warbler) is the most reported host for the parasitic Cowbird.

Further reading:

Birds at Your Feeder: A Guide to Feeding Habits, Behavior, Distribution and Abundance by Erica H. Dunn and Diane L. Tessaglia

Birds Of Pennsylvania by Franklin Haas and Roger Burrows

2 comments

  1. Whoa–that’s a dark song sparrow. Are they all so sooty looking in Philly? Over here west of the Cascades they’re overall a lighter brown and the facial markings contrast a bit more.

    Interesting.

    • Hi, Sonja

      I used a public domain photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The notice is very light in the caption underneath the photo. I didn’t have a good photo of my own handy.
      It is not a Philly Sparrow. Good detective work!

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