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Song Sparrow

Melospiza melodia

Length: 5.5 to 7 inches Wingspan: 8.5 to 11 inches Seasonality: Summer / All Seasons
ID Keys: Streaks on chest with central blotch, long tail, striped face

Song Sparrow - Melospiza melodiaThe Song Sparrow is one of the most familiar birds in parts of the United States, although its habit of using dense vegetation may occasionally mask its presence.  They are quite adaptable, preferring habitats with thick cover, but adapting to a wide variety of brushy habitats. Song Sparrows may vary greatly in size and coloration over their wide range in North America.  Over 30 different sub-species have been recognized. The songs are similarly variable, with different "dialects" found in different parts of North America (and substantial variation in individual songs as well).


Habitats varies greatly, although they are generally found near brush and thickets.   Habitats may include fencerows, streamsides, brushy fields, forest edges and openings, and residential areas.


The summer diet consists of many insects and spiders, while the winter diet consists primarily of the seeds of grasses and weeds.  Will also feed on assorted berries, while those near coastal wetlands may feed on small mollusks and crustaceans.


Often skulks in thickets and brush, but males may be conspicuous when singing from higher perches.  Primarily forages on the ground, but also sometimes in trees and shrubs.


May through July in South Dakota. The nest of a Song Sparrow is constructed in thick cover, most often on the ground, but sometimes low in a bush or a tree. The nest is placed in an area that offers cover and protection, often next to a clump of grass or vegetation or the base of a small shrub. The nest itself is a cup built of grasses, weed stems, and strips of bark, lined with hair, rootlets, or finer grasses. The female lays between 2 and 6 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The young hatch after 12 to 14 days, and fledge from the nest in another 10 to 12 days after hatching.


The song of a Song Sparrow begins with multiple clear whistled notes, spaced with clear but short intervals, and ending with variable, multi-tone buzzing or trill notes. Just as Song Sparrow plumages vary widely across their North American Range, the song of a Song Sparrow also has unique geographic characteristics. While a birder can generally identify the culprit as a Song Sparrow no matter where it may be found, the details of the songs vary.  Song Sparrows also have short call notes.


Summers throughout the U.S. and Canada.  Winters through most of the U.S. and near the coastlines in Canada. In South Dakota, they are very common as breeding birds in the summer, and in migration. In winter, a few birds may remain (although I rarely run across them in the winter months).

Interactive eBird map:

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

Similar Species:

Song Sparrows could be confused with multiple other "striped flank" sparrows. During migration, all of these sparrows could potentially be found in mixed foraging flocks, further challenging a birder in the field. Note that one feature characteristic of a Song Sparrow is a central dark spot on the chest (a feature also shared by the American Tree Sparrow). Otherwise, the following provides a summary of key characteristics and identification features of other sparrows that could be confused with a Song Sparrow.

Lincoln's Sparrow 2 - Melospiza lincolnii Savannah Sparrow 21 - Passerculus sandwichensis Vesper Sparrow - Pooecetes gramineus Fox Sparrow 16 -  Passerella iliaca
Lincoln's Sparrow Savannah Sparrow Vesper Sparrow Fox Sparrow


Song Sparrows will use a wide variety of scrubby habitats, and have adapted well to human modified landscapes. They are found across a very broad geographic area, are common in many parts of that range, and overall numbers are generally stable. The IUCN currently lists the Song Sparrow as a species of "least concern".

Bird Feeders:

Will attend feeders for a wide variety of food items, including sunflower seeds, safflower, cracked corn, peanuts, or millet. They primarily feed on the ground, and would most often be found below feeders, foraging for fallen seeds. They will also feed directly from a platform feeder.

Further Information:

Photo Information:

October 15th, 2005 - Atkin's Slough near Tea, in Lincoln County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

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

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view

Song Sparrow - North American Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer breeding resident in appropriate habitat throughout the state.  Rare in the winter, most common in the southern part of the state.

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