LeConte's Sparrow - Ammospiza leconteii
LeConte's Sparrows are a small sparrow, usually 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 inches in length. The sexes are very similar in appearance. The face, throat, breast and superciliary are distinctly buffy or ochre in color. The belly is white. Malar stripes are weak or absent and streaking on the breast is also absent, although there is some streaking of the flanks. The auricular patch is a pale gray color. The nape is lavender to pinkish and has fine chestnut streakings (Lowther 1996). The dark crown is bisected by a white stripe (Walkinshaw 1968). The tail is as long as the wing and the tail feathers are very narrow and pointed. The wings are round and short with an edge of white present (Lowther 1996). Juvenile LeConte's Sparrows are relatively similar to adults with buff on the face, throat and breast. However, this buff is usually duller. The crown stripe is buffy colored. The nape is unstreaked and also buffy. The breast has fine streaking (Lowther 1996).
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
LeConte's Sparrows coexist with Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows (A. nelsoni), Baird's Sparrows (A. bairdii), and Grasshopper Sparrows (A. savannarum) and identification can be challenging. Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows have a gray unstreaked nape, a prominent auricular patch and no crown stripe. Baird's Sparrows have a buff crown stripe extending to the nape, a distinctively dark malar stripe and streaks across the breast. Grasshopper Sparrows have yellow lores and are buffier and duller on the face extending to the underparts and belly. The song of the LeConte's Sparrow is also diagnostic. This extremely short burst of song usually lasts less than 1 second and is characterized as a very insect-like "tzeek-tzzzz tick" (Oberholser 1974).
Western Hemisphere Range
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
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Map Help and Descriptions
(direct evidence "B")
(indirect evidence "b")
No evidence of Breeding
(regular observations "W")
(at least one obs. "w")
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
Little is known about migration patterns of LeConte's Sparrows in Montana. Very few records exist for LeConte's Sparrows during migration, with the majority coming during fall. They have been observed during migration in only 5 quarter-latilongs (Montana Bird Distribution Committee 2012). Interestingly, these few observations have come from areas of higher human population: Great Falls in May, Glacier National Park in June, Billings in September, Helena in October and Missoula in December.
LeConte's Sparrows are short-distance migrants, remaining within North America during their migratory cycle. They apparently migrate at night singly or widely spaced (Lowther 1996). Fall migration begins in September and birds usually arrive at wintering locations in November (Murray 1969). The majority of species migrates through the Great Plains east to the Mississippi Valley. Records from California and the east coast are uncommon and considered vagrant young birds. LeConte's Sparrows migrate north to the breeding areas usually in March to April (Terres 1980).
Montana is at the periphery of the LeConte's Sparrow's range. A small disjunct area of their breeding range does occur in the northwest corner of the state (Davis 1952). Breeding records from extreme northeastern Montana show this species is present and possibly expanding its known range westward from the eastern half of North Dakota. Habitat appears to be quite limited in Montana, indicated by the very few documented breeding occurrences. The areas in northwest Montana where LeConte's Sparrows have bred are wet meadows within peatlands, often with a strong sedge (Carex) component. Several species of Carex have been documented in LeConte's Sparrow habitat, including Carex aquatilis (water sedge), C. interior (inland sedge), C. sartwellii (Sartwell's sedge), and C. nebrascensis (Nebraska sedge). This habitat type is similar to the wet meadow bog and sedge meadow habitats LeConte's Sparrows have been known to use in Alberta (Semenchuk 1992). Davis (1952) argues this northwestern Montana population has possibility spread south from northern Alberta.
LeConte's Sparrows have also been found in a few other habitat types. Subirrigated meadowland with short stands of grasses is one habitat where the species has been documented breeding. The elusiveness of LeConte's Sparrows in the breeding habitat may account for the limited knowledge regarding them.
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 (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
- 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 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
- Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
- Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
- 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 listed as associated with 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 listed as 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.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific 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 assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
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: mtnhp.org/requests
) 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.
- 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. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
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- 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 studies have not occurred in the state. Information from studies in other areas of the species' range indicate that LeConte's Sparrows eat mainly seeds in winter, and insects and spiders in summer. This species is a ground forager (Terres 1980).
No ecological information is available in Montana. Information from other areas of the species' range state the rough estimates of breeding territory sizes in North Dakota and Minnesota were 0.0009 to 0.004 hectares (Murray 1969, Cooper 1984).
Little information is available regarding LeConte's Sparrow reproduction in Montana. Potential breeding locations are often inaccessible and difficult to survey. LeConte's Sparrow nests have been located in Montana during July (Davis 1952), including a nest with eggs seen in Glacier National Park on July 15, 1951 (Davis 1961). Egg dates are probably similar to those in Saskatchewan and Manitoba: June 4 to 21, and Alberta: as early as June 6 (Johnsgard 1992). Information from other portions of their range found that eggs are laid from late May to early July with a clutch size of 3 to 5 (usually 4). Incubation, by the female, lasts 11 to 13 days. The female exclusively tends the young at first; the male helps after a short period of time.
No known active management is ongoing for LeConte's Sparrows in the state. Conservation Reserve Program practices may provide large blocks of suitable habitat for this species in northeastern Montana.
- Literature Cited AboveLegend: View Online Publication
- Cooper, S. 1984. Habitat and size of the Le Conte's Sparrow territory. Loon 56:162-165.
- Davis, C.V. 1961. A distributional study of the birds of Montana. Ph.D. dissertation. Oregon State University, Corvallis. 462 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.
- Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages.
- Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
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- Walkinshaw, L.H. 1968. Le Conte's sparrow (Passerherbulus caudacutus). In: O.L. Austin, Jr., ed. Life histories of North American cardinals, grosbeaks, buntings, towhees, finches, sparrows, and allies, part 2. Pp. 765-776. United States National Museum Bulletin 237. Reprinted by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY.
- Additional ReferencesLegend: View Online Publication
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- American Ornithologists' Union. 1957. Checklist of North American Birds. 5th edition. Baltimore: Lord Baltimore Press. 691 pp.
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- Davis, D.E. 1952. Leconte Sparrow in Western Montana. The Condor, 54:115-116.
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- Hotchkiss, N. 1948. Bird records from northeastern Montana. Condor 50:274-275.
- Igl, L.D. 1996. Le Conte's, Sharp-tailed, and Henslow's sparrows in Grant County. Loon 68:127-128.
- Igl, L.D., and D.H. Johnson. 1995. Dramatic increase of Le Conte's Sparrow in Conservation Reserve Program fields in the northern Great Plains. Prairie Naturalist 27:89-94.
- Igl, L.D., and D.H. Johnson. 1999. Le Conte's Sparrows breeding in Conservation Reserve Program fields: precipitation and patterns of population change. Studies in Avian Biology 19:178-186.
- Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 539 pp.
- Jones, R.E. 1994. Non-waterfowl evaluation of Manitoba's North American Waterfowl Management Program. Unpublished report. Wildlife Branch, Manitoba Department of Natural Resources, Winnipeg, Manitoba. 15 pp.
- 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.
- Lowther, P.E. 2005. Le Conte's Sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii). Species Account Number 224. 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
- Madden, E.M. 1996. Passerine communities and bird-habitat relationships on prescribe-burned, mixed-grass prairie in North Dakota. M.S. thesis, Montana State Univ., Bozeman. 153 pp.
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- Montana Bird Distribution Online Database. 2001. Helena, Montana, USA. April-September 2003.
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- Niemi, G. J. 1985. Patterns of morphological evolution in bird genera of New World and Old World peatlands. Ecology 66:1215-1228.
- Peabody, P.B. 1901. Nesting habits of Leconte's Sparrow. Auk 18:129-134.
- Prescott, D.R.C., and A.J. Murphy. 1995. Bird populations and vegetation structure of tame dense nesting cover (DNC) in Alberta's aspen parkland. Alberta NAWMP Centre. NAWMP-014. Edmonton, Alberta. 19 pp.
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- Renken, R.B. and J.J. Dinsmore. 1987. Nongame bird communities on managed grasslands in North Dakota. Can. Field-Nat. 101: 551-557.
- Richter, C.H. 1969. The Le Conte's Sparrow in northeastern Wisconsin. Passenger Pigeon 31:275-277.
- 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.
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- Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p.
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