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Song Sparrow - BirdForum Opus

Nominate subspecies
Photo © by Clyde L.
Central Louisiana, USA, 24 November 2006
Melospiza melodia


12–17 cm (4¾-6¾ in)

  • Medium-sized, long-tailed
  • Short, rounded wings
  • Bill size variable, often rather narrow and pointed
  • Brown lateral crown-stripes and a grey, paler median stripe
  • Greyish on the side of the head with brown stripes back from eye, along lower edge of ear-coverts and lateral throat stripe
  • Distinct dark streaks below, on upper breast usually coalescing to form a small dark patch.


Subspecies M. m. gouldii
Photo © by Joseph Morlan
Pacifica, San Mateo County, California, USA, 20 March 2020

The most widespread sparrow in North America. Summers in the southern provinces of Canada and along the coast into Alaska. Year-round in the 48 states, extending into northern Baja California and western mainland Mexico. Winters in the south-eastern states and northeastern Mexico.


Patten and Pruitt (2009) have argued that the Song Sparrow is a Ring Species in which two populations meet at the endpoints of a ring where they act like separate biological species. However the contact zone in the Coachella Valley of Southern California where M. m. heermanni (coastal) and M. m. fallax (desert) overlap is very limited.


Juvenile, nominate subspecies
Photo © by mali
Reading, Pennsylvania, USA, 13 June 2018

There are 25 subspecies[1]:

  • M. m. melodia: North-eastern British Columbia to eastern Canada, and north-eastern Montana to northern Arkansas and western North Carolina; winters south to Texas, south-eastern US, Florida
  • M. m. atlantica: Coastal New York (Long Island) to North Carolina; winters to northern Georgia
  • M. m. maxima: Aleutian Islands (Attu to Atka)
  • M. m. sanaka: Aleutian Islands (Seguam to Unimak, Sanak to Amak)
  • M. m. insignis: Kodiak Group (Sitkalidak Island to Barren Island) and adjacent Alaskan Peninsula
  • M. m. kenaiensis: Coastal southern Alaska (Cook Inlet to Copper River)
  • M. m. caurina: Coastal south-eastern Alaska (Yakutat Bay to Cross Sound); winters to northern California
  • M. m. rufina: Outer islands of south-eastern Alaska to central British Columbia; winters to western Washington
  • M. m. morphna: South-western British Columbia to south-western Oregon; winters to central California
  • M. m. merrilli: South-eastern Alaska (Glacier Bay), central British Columbia to south-western Alberta and north-western Montana; winters to central California, northern Mexico
  • M. m. montana: Eastern Oregon, north-eastern California to central Montana, western Colorado, north-eastern Arizona, northern New Mexico; winters to central California, north-western Mexico
  • M. m. cleonensis: Extreme south-western coastal Oregon to northern Californian (western Mendocino County)
  • M. m. gouldii: Coastal central California (Mendocino Co. to northern San Benito Co.)
  • M. m. maxillaris: Brackish marshes of central California (Suisan Bay)
  • M. m. heermanni: Cistmontane California (Central Valley, Suisan Bay to Mojave, Colorado deserts), coastal California (from northern Monterey County to northern Baja)
  • M. m. graminea: Channel Isands (off southern California), Los Coronados Islands (off north-western Baja California)
  • M. m. samuelis: Salt marshes of central California (San Pablo and San Francisco bays)
  • M. m. pusillula: Salt marshes of central California (south side of San Francisco Bay)
  • M. m. fallax: Southern Nevada to south-western Utah, south-eastern California to north-western Baja California, western Mexico (north-eastern Sonora)
  • M. m. rivularis: South-central Baja California
  • M. m. goldmani: Sierra Madre Occidental of western Mexico (El Salto area of Durango)
  • M. m. mexicana: Wetlands of central Mexico (Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, Puebla, Distrito Federal and México)
  • M. m. villai: Central Mexico (upper Río Lerma), south-eastern Guanajuato and north-western Michoacan
  • M. m. adusta: Central and south-western Mexico (Río Lerma River from Lago Yuriria to southern Guanajuato, Lago Pátzcuaro in Michoacán)
  • M. m. zacapu: South-western Mexico (Zacapu region of northern Michoacán and Laguna Chapala)


Low, open, brushy areas and marshes, including salt marshes.



They forage on the ground, in shrubs or in very shallow water, sometimes in small flocks. The diet includes insects and seeds. Birds in salt marshes may also eat small crustaceans.


They nest either in a sheltered location on the ground or in trees or shrubs. Their clutch contains 3-5 brown spotted greenish-white eggs.


Call: Burry chep
Song: Complicated series of trills and whistles. Much individual variation. Delivered from several prominent perches around the edge of male's territory. Listen to a song clip (nominate subspecies)
Recording © by Phiff1
Sudbury, Massachusetts, 22 June 2016

Listen to a song clip (subspecies M. m. gouldii)
Recording © by Joseph Morlan
Pacifica, California, 20 March 2020


Northern populations migratory or partly migratory; Southern ones, including West Coast populations resident.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Arcese, P., M. K. Sogge, A. B. Marr, and M. A. Patten (2020). Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.sonspa.01
  3. Rising, J. (2020). Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/61915 on 22 March 2020).
  4. Patten, Michael & Pruett, Christin. (2009). The Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia, as a ring species: Patterns of geographic variation, a revision of subspecies, and implications for speciation. Systematics and Biodiversity. 7(1):33-62. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1477200008002867.

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GSearch checked for 2020 platform.1