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Montana Field Guides

Savannah Sparrow - Passerculus sandwichensis

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Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5B

Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS:
BLM:
FWP Conservation Tier: 3
PIF:


 

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Copyright by Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, all rights reserved.
 
General Description
A highly variable species (or may comprise multiple species) that generally has yellow lores and often has a yellowish eyebrow; pale crown stripe (indistinct in southern California and often in juveniles); dark to buffy whisker stripe; upperparts usually streaked (not so in some parts of southern California); short notched tail; streaked sides and breast (sometimes with a central spot); whitish belly and undertail; pale pinkish or straw colored legs and feet (most of range) (Ridgway 1901). The numerous subspecies vary in size, coloration, bill size, and extent of streaking. Overall length is 11 to 14 cm, mass about 15 to 20 g. When flushed, runs through the grass or makes short, quick, erratic flights. VOCALIZATIONS: song is an insect-like "tip tip tip seeee saaaaay". Calls include a slight tseep or tsip.

Diagnostic Characteristics
The Savannah Sparrow differs from the Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) by usually having a yellowish eyebrow stripe, whitish crown stripe, short notched tail (vs. long and rounded), and pinker legs (Peterson 1990). They lack the white outer tail feathers of the Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus).

Species Range
Montana Range

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Western Hemisphere Range


eBird Occurrence Map
 


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 8081

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

Breeding
(direct evidence "B")


Breeding
(indirect evidence "b")


No evidence of Breeding
(transient "t")


Overwintering
(regular observations "W")


Overwintering
(at least one obs. "w")



 

(Records associated with a range of dates are excluded from time charts)



Migration
In the Bozeman area, normal migration periods are May 2 to 20 and September 20 to 30.

Habitat
The Savannah Sparrow is widespread and abundant in open habitats throughout North America. During the breeding season its persistent buzzy song can be heard in agricultural fields, meadows, marshes, coastal grasslands, and tundra. During spring and fall migration it can be found in open fields, roadsides, dune vegetation, coastal marshes, edges of sewage ponds and other ponds in open country. It is rarely found in open woodlands (Wheelwright and Rising 1993).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at bmaxell@mt.gov or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
The main foods taken in winter include small seeds, fruits, and insects when available. During breeding season they eat adult insects, larval insects, insect eggs, small spiders, millipedes, isopods, amphipods, decapods, mites, small mollusks, seeds, and fruits (Wheelwright and Rising 1993).

Reproductive Characteristics
The female chooses the nest site and builds it alone. Nests are placed on the ground and well-hidden. Females are extremely sensitive to disturbances and may desert the nest if disturbed before the clutch is complete (Wheelwright and Rising 1993). Near Fortine, egg dates range from June 27 to July 14. Statewide, they nest during June and early July.

References
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
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    • American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. 829 pp.
    • Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant landbirds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. U.S.D.A. For. Serv. N. Region Publ. R1-93-34. Missoula, Mont.
    • Dobkin, D.S. 1994. Conservation and management of neotropical migrant landbirds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. Univ. Idaho Press, Moscow, Idaho. 220 pp.
    • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp.
    • Humphris, Michael., 1993, Wildlife Monitoring Report. Spring Creek Coal Company 1993 Mining Annual Report. Appendix I. April 11, 1993.
    • Humphris, Michael., 1994, Wildlife Monitoring Report. Spring Creek Coal Company 1994 Mining Annual Report. Appendix I. April 1994.
    • Hutto, R. L. and J. S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-32. U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, and Rocky Mountain Research Station, Ogden, UT. 72 pp.
    • Johnsgard, P. A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 539 pp.
    • Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2001: Johnson - Valier, Valier, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.018. July 2002. In 2001 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. I.
    • Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2001: Musgrave Lake, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.019. July 2002. In 2001 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. II.
    • Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2002: [Jack] Johnson - Valier, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.018. May 2003. In 2002 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. II.
    • Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2002: Fourchette Creek Reservoir Complex, Phillips County, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.023. February 2003. In 2002 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. I.
    • Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana Bird Distribution, 6th Edition. Montana Audubon: Helena, MT, 144 pp.
    • Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
    • Powder River Eagle Studies, Inc., Gillette, WY., 1995, Spring Creek Mine 1994 Wildlife Monitoring Studies. 4/94 to 4/95. Spring Creek Coal Company 1995 Mining Annual Report. Appendix I. May 1995.
    • Rising, J.D. 1996. A guide to the identification and natural history of the sparrows of the United States and Canada. Academic Press, Inc., San Diego, CA. 365 pp.
    • Spring Creek Coal Company., 1992, Wildlife Monitoring Report. Spring Creek Coal Company 1992 Mining Annual Report. Appendix I.
    • Stewart, R.E. 1975. Breeding birds of North Dakota. Tri-College Center for Environmental Studies, Fargo, North Dakota. 295 pp.
    • U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages.
    • Wheelright, N.T. and J.D. Rising. 1993. Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis). In The Birds of North America, No. 45 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
    • Wheelwright, N. T., and J. D. Rising. 1993. Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis). Species Account Number 045. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database
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Citation for data on this website:
Savannah Sparrow — Passerculus sandwichensis.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=ABPBX99010
 
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