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Savannah Sparrow -
Native Species Global Rank
Agency Status USFWS
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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
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.
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).
Western Hemisphere Range
eBird Occurrence Map
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Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
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SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding
Indirect Evidence of Breeding
No Evidence of Breeding
WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Not Regularly Observed
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
In the Bozeman area, normal migration periods are May 2 to 20 and September 20 to 30.
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 (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,
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:
) 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.
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.
Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Human Land Use
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Shrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Shrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
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).
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.
Literature Cited Above
Legend: View Online Publication Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages. Peterson, R.T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Third edition. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. 432 pp. Ridgway, R. 1901. The birds of North and Middle America. Part I. U.S. National Museum Bull. 50. Additional References
Legend: View Online Publication Do you know of a citation we're missing? American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p. Baril, L.M. 2009. Change in deciduous woody vegetation, implications of increased willow (Salix spp.) growth for bird species diversity, and willow species composition in and around Yellowstone National Park's northern range. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, Montana: Montana State University. 124 p. Becker, D.M. 1984. Reproductive ecology and habitat utilization of Richardson's merlins in southeastern Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Missoula, MT: University of Montana. 62 p. Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. 2017. Pocket Guide to Northern Prairie Birds. Brighton, CO: Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. 98 p. Bramblett, R.G., and A.V. Zale. 2002. Montana Prairie Riparian Native Species Report. Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit, Montana State University - Bozeman. Cameron, E. S. 1908. The birds of Custer and Dawson counties, Montana. Auk 25:39-56. Casey, D. 2005. Rocky Mountain Front avian inventory. Final report. Prepared for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy by the American Bird Conservancy, Kalispell, Montana. Clawson, M.R. 199. An investigation of factors that may affect nest success in CRP lands and other grassland habitats in an agricultural landscape. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 45 p. Debinski, D. M. 1991. Inventory and monitoring of biodiversity: an assessment of methods and a case study of Glacier National Park, MT. Ph.D. Dissertation. Montana State University, Bozeman. 205 p. Debinski, D.M., R.E. VanNimwegen, and M.E. Jakubauskas. 2006. Quantifying relationships between bird and butterfly community shifts and environmental change. Ecological Applications 16(1): 380-393. Dickson, D.C. 1991. Systematic wildlife observations on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Missoula, MT. 14 pp. plus appendices and photographs. 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. Dood, A.R. 1980. Terry Badlands nongame survey and inventory final report. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and Bureau of Land Management, Helena, MT. 70 pp. DuBois, K.L. 1979. An inventory of the avifauna in the Long Pines of Southeastern Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 113 p. 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. Gniadek, S. 1983. Southwest Glendive Wildlife Baseline Inventory. Miles City, Mont: Bureau of Land Management, Miles City District Office. 56 pp with appendices. Goodell, J. 2012. Morse Land Company Breeding Bird Inventory And Analysis. High Desert Museum. Bend, OR. 42 pp + Appendices. Hays, R., R.L. Eng, and C.V. Davis (preparers). 1984. A list of Montana birds. Helena, MT: MT Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Hendricks, P, S. Lenard, and C. Currier. 2012. Grassland Bird Surveys in North Valley County and Northwest Phillips County, Montana: 2011 Summary. Report to the USDI Bureau of Land Management. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 7pp. Hendricks, P. 2000. Roadside bird counts on BLM lands in Petroleum and Fergus Counties, Montana. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 57pp. Hendricks, P. and M. Roedel. 2001. A faunal survey of the Centennial Valley Sandhills, Beaverhead County, Montana. Report to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 44 p. Hendricks, P., G.M. Kudray, S. Lenard, and B.A. Maxell. 2007. A Multi-Scale Analysis Linking Prairie Breeding Birds to Site and Landscape Factors Including USGS GAP Data. Helena, Mont: Montana Natural Heritage Program. Hendricks, P., S. Lenard, C. Currier, and J. Carlson. 2007. Grassland bird surveys in north Valley County, Montana: 2001-2006. Report to the Bureau of Land Management, Glasgow Field Office. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, Montana. 19 pp. plus appendices. Hendricks, P., S. Lenard, C. Currier, B. A. Maxell, and J. Carlson. 2008. Surveys for grassland birds of the Malta Field Office-BLM, including a seven-year study in north Valley County. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena. Hendricks, P., S. Lenard, D.M. Stagliano, and B.A. Maxell. 2013. Baseline nongame wildlife surveys on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Report to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 83 p. Herbert, J.T. 1977. An inventory of the bird population within the Sarpy Creek drainage, southeastern Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 81 p. 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. U.S. Forest Service General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-32, Ogden, Utah. Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 539 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. Joslin, Gayle, and Heidi B. Youmans. 1999. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a review for Montana. [Montana]: Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Kantrud, H.A. 1982. Maps of distribution and abundance of selected species of birds on uncultivated native upland grasslands and shrubsteppe in the northern Great Plains. U.S. Dept. Int., Fish and Wildl. Serv. FWS/OBS-82/31. 31 p. Knopf, F.L., J.A. Sedgwick, and R.W. Cannon. 1988. Guild structure of a riparian avifauna relative to seasonal cattle grazing. J. Wildl. Manage. 52(2):280-290. 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. 2006. Birds of Blaine County, Riparian Point Count Surveys 2005. Report to the Bureau of LandManagement, Havre Field Station, Havre, Montana. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 16pp.plus appendices. Lenard, S. and P. Hendricks. 2005. Birds of selected grassland and riparian plots along the Rocky Mountain Front. Montana Natural Heritage Program for US Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy. 17pp + maps. Lenard, S., Compiler. 2005. Surveys for Animal Species of Concern in Sage and Grassland Landscapes in Montana. An unpublished report to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, State Wildlife Grants Program. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, Montana. 63pp. 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. Matthews, W.L. 1980a. Wibaux-Beach comparison study: Sydney, Glendive and Plevna Study Areas. Bureau of Land Management, Miles City, MT. 50 p. Matthews, W.L. 1981. Broadus-Pumpkin Creek baseline inventory - wildlife. Bureau of Land Management, Miles City, MT. 83 p. Maxell, B.A. 2016. Flammulated Owl surveys on the Big Timber, Bozeman, Gardiner and Livingston Ranger Districts of the Custer Gallatin National Forest: 2013. Report to Custer Gallatin National Forest. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 27pp + appendices. Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map. MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks. No date. Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area checklist. Oechsli, L.M. 2000. Ex-urban development in the Rocky Mountain West: consequences for native vegetation, wildlife diversity, and land-use planning in Big Sky, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 73 p. Pavlacky Jr., D.C., et al. 2021. Landscape-scale conservation mitigates the biodiversity loss of grassland birds. Ecological Applications e2548. 17 p. Pitkin, P. and L. Quattrini. 2017. Pocket Guide to Sagebrush Birds. Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and Point Blue Conservation Science. 68 p. 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. Ralph, J.C., J.R. Sauer, and S. Droege. 1995. Monitoring bird populations by point counts. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-149. Albany, CA: USDA Pacific Southwest Research Station. 181 p. Richmond, C.W. and F.H. Knowlton. 1894. Birds of south-central Montana. Auk 11:298-308. 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. Rundquist, V.M. 1973. Avian ecology on stock ponds in two vegetational types in north-central Montana. Ph.D. Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 112 p. Sater, S. 2022. The insects of Sevenmile Creek, a pictorial guide to their diversity and ecology. Undergraduate Thesis. Helena, MT: Carroll College. 242 p. Saunders, A.A. 1914. The birds of Teton and northern Lewis & Clark counties, Montana. Condor 16:124-144. Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp. Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69. 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. 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. Stewart, R.E. and H.A. Kantrud. 1972. Population estimates of breeding birds in North Dakota. The Auk 89(4):766-788. Swan River National Wildlife Refuge. 1982. Birds of the Swan River NWR. Kalispell, MT: NW MT Fish and Wildlife Center pamphlet. Thompson, L.S. 1978. Species abundance and habitat relations of an insular montane avifauna. Condor 80(1):1-14. Thompson, L.S. 1981. Circle West wildlife monitoring study: Third annual report. Technical report No. 8. Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Helena, Montana. TRC Environmental Corporation. 2009. Results of the 2008 grassland bird displacement study at the Judith Gap wind energy project, Wheatland County, Montana. Judith Gap Energy LLC. Chicago, IL. 24 pp + appendices. 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. Waldt, R. 1995. The Pine Butte Swamp Preserve bird list. Choteau, MT: The Nature Conservancy. Updated August 1995. Watts, C.R. and L.C. Eichhorn. 1981. Changes in the birds of central Montana. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences 40:31-40. 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 White, C.M., N.J. Van Lanen, D.C. Pavlacky Jr., J.A. Blakesley, R.A. Sparks, J.M.Stenger, J.A. Rehm-Lorber, M.F. McLaren, F. Cardone, J.J. Birek and D.J. Hanni. 2011. Integrated monitoring of bird conservation regions (IMBCR): 2010 Annual Report. Brighton, CO: Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. 387 p. Web Search Engines for Articles on "Savannah Sparrow"
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