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Grasshopper Sparrow

Ammodramus savannarum

Length: 4.75 to 5.25 inches Wingspan: 8 to 8.5 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Central white crown stripe bordered by dark stripes, striped back, plain face, yellow lore

Grasshopper Sparrow - Ammodramus savannarumNamed after its song which is very similar to a grasshopper, the Grasshopper Sparrow can sometimes be difficult to observe.  Unless singing during the mating season, they prefer to stay out of sight near the ground in grassy areas, and will often run along the ground when moving about rather than flying.  However,singing males can often be easily observed, as they sing from a taller perch in their grassland domain, such as a fence line or fence post, or the tallest clump of grass or other vegetation in their territory..

Habitat:

Grasslands and prairies, prefer ably with tall grasses and scattered shrubs.  Will also use hayfields, and occasionally agricultural fields with other crops.  

Diet:

Primarily feeds on insects and spiders in the summer, while seeds and waste grain make up most of the diet in the winter (and a portion of the summer diet).  Also will feed on earthworms and snails.

Behavior:

Nearly always forages along the ground.  During the summer breeding season, they sometimes are found in loose breeding colonies, with individual males defending small patches of turf by singing from low perches.

Nesting:

June and July in South Dakota. The nest of a Grasshopper Sparrow is placed on the ground, next to a grassy clump. The nest is a cup of grasses lined with fine roots, hair, and/or fine grasses. The nest is usually covered by a dome of grasses woven into the surrounding vegetation, with an entrance to the nest from the side. The female lays between 3 and 6 eggs, with the female incubating them. The young hatch after about 11 days, fledging from the nest about 8-10 days after hatching.

Song:

The typical song of a Grasshopper Sparrow is an insect-like buzzing, typically preceded by a couple of tik notes (tik-tik-buzzzzzzzzzzzzz). Occasionally the song may also include a series of jumbled notes, typically when the song is given in flight. Calls of a Grasshopper Sparrow are typically a thin tseet, although they have other calls that may be used when alarmed or defending a nest.

1Click here to hear a singing Grasshopper Sparrow

2Click here to hear the quiet call notes of a Grasshopper Sparrow

3Click here to hear an alternative Grasshopper Sparrow song

Migration:

Summers throughout much of the U.S.  Winters in the southern U.S., Mexico, Central America, and parts of the Caribbean. The are summer residents and migrants in South Dakota.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Grasshopper Sparrow sightings

Similar Species:

Grasshopper Sparrows could potentially be confused with a few other small sparrow species.  Note that each of the species noted below are not that common in South Dakota.

Conservation Status:

Grasshopper Sparrows have shown severe declines locally.  The Florida sub-species is seriously endangered, as are local populations in the Appalachians.  Standard count surveys have indicated overall population declines of over 50% in the last several decades.  However, they are still found across a very broad geographic area, and are common in parts of that range. Thus, the IUCN considers the global Grasshopper Sparrow population to be of "Least Concern".

In South Dakota, they often show a strong preference for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land. Since about 2005, many farmers are giving up their CRP contracts and planting crops on former CRP land, which has the potential to seriously affect Grasshopper Sparrow populations in many areas.  Overall cropland expansion that has occurred since 2005 in the Great Plains undoubtedly has had a negative impact.

Further Information:

1) WhatBird - Grasshopper Sparrow

2) BirdWeb - Grasshopper Sparrow

3) Audubon Guide - Grasshopper Sparrow

Photo Information:

July 16th, 2004 -- Near Richland Wildlife Area on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Grasshopper Sparrow photos.

Audio File Credits:

1Joshua Stevenson. Recorded in Gibson County, Tennessee on July 12th, 2014. Original recording and information from xeno-canto.

2Paul Marvin. Recorded in Santa Cruz County, Arizona on February 11th, 2012. Original recording and information from xeno-canto.

3Jonathon Jongsma. Recorded in Custer State Park, South Dakota on June 21st, 2012. Original recording and information from xeno-canto.

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Grasshopper Sparrow - Ammodramus savannarum - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident throughout the state in areas of suitable habitat.

Additional Grasshopper Sparrow Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
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