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Song Sparrow -
Native Species Global Rank
Agency Status USFWS
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Size and plumage darkness are geographically variable (large and dark in Alaska, small and pale in deserts); long rounded tail, pumped in flight; grayish eyebrow and broad dark stripe bordering whitish throat; upperparts usually streaked; underparts whitish with streaked sides and breast and usually a central dark spot on the breast (young have finer streaks and may lack the spot); pinkish legs and feet; 13 to 16 cm (Peterson 1990).
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 Song Sparrow differs from the Fox Sparrow by being smaller in size (Fox Sparrow length 17 to 19 cm) and less heavily marked. They differ from the Savannah Sparrow by lacking yellow over the eye and having a rounded rather than notched tail. They differ from Lincoln's Sparrow by having a less contrastingly striped crown and a wider eye ring and by lacking a band of creamy-buff across the upper breast.
Western Hemisphere Range
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
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 March 20 to April 10 and September 20 to November 5.
Wide range of forest, shrub, and riparian habitats, but limited to those adjacent to fresh water more often in arid environments (Arcese et al. 2002).
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
Forest and Woodland 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
Human Land Use
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Shrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
In nonbreeding period, primarily seeds, fruits, and invertebrates, as available. During breeding, primarily insects and other small invertebrates; some seeds and fruit (Arcese et. al 2002).
Chief requisites for nest: secure support and concealment. Specific site characteristics variable; commonest low in grass and shrub. May nest close to houses, in flower beds. Eggs are ovate, blue, blue-green, to gray-green in color, spots common. Clutch size typically 3 to 5 eggs (Arcese et al. 2002). Near Fortine, egg dates range from May 5 to July 12. Statewide, nesting is from the 2nd week of May through the 1st week of July.
Literature Cited Above
Legend: View Online Publication Arcese, P., M. K. Sogge, A. B. Marr, and M. A. Patten. 2002. Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia). In The birds of North America, No. 704 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and American Ornithologists’ Union. 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. 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. Bart, J., and J.D. Schoultz. 1984. Reliability of singing bird surveys: changes in observer efficiency with avian density. The Auk 101:307-318. 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. 2000. Partners in Flight Draft Bird Conservation Plan Montana. Version 1.0. 287 pp. 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. Confluence Consulting Inc. 2010. Montana Department of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports (various sites). MDT Helena, MT. Confluence Consulting Inc. 2011. Montana Department of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports (various sites). MDT Helena, MT. Confluence Consulting Inc. 2012. Montana Department of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports (various sites). MDT Helena, MT. Confluence Consulting Inc. 2013. Montana Department of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports (various sites). MDT Helena, MT. 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. Decker Coal Co., 1981, Wildlife survey. July 7, 1981. In North Decker 5-Year Permit Application. Vol. III. Rule 26.4.304(12-14). DeSante, D.F., K.M. Burton, and O.E. Williams. 1993. The Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) Program second annual (1992) report. Bird Populations 1:1-27. 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. 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. Econ, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1977, 1977 wildlife and wildlife habitat monitoring study, Peabody Coal Company Big Sky Mine. Proj. 161-85-A. November 30, 1977. 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. Faanes, C.A. 1983. Avian use of forest habitats in the Pembina Hills of northeastern North Dakota. Resource Publ. 151. Washington, D.C.: U.S.D.I. Fish and Wildlife Service. 24 p. Finch, D.M. 1991. Positive associations among riparian bird species correspond to elevational changes in plant communities. Canadian Journal of Zoology 69:951-963. Fjell, Alan K., and Brian R. Mahan., 1983, Peabody Coal Company Big Sky Mine, Rosebud County, MT. Wildlife monitoring report: 1982 field season. May 1983. Fjell, Alan K., and Brian R. Mahan., 1987, Big Sky Mine, Rosebud County, MT. Wildlife monitoring report: 1986 field season. April 1987. Flack, J.A.D. 1976. Bird populations of aspen forests in western North America. Ornith. Monogr. 19. 97pp. Gillihan, SW. and T. VerCauteren. 2015. Pocket Guide to Prairie Birds. Brighton, CO: Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. 91 p. 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. Graham, Dean, and Craig Swick., 1977, A Field evaluation of the cyclone seeder for reducing Richardson ground squirrel populations causing damage in central Montana . August 1977. Hand, R.L. 1969. A distributional checklist of the birds of western Montana. Unpublished. Available at Mansfield Library, University of Montana, Missoula. Hays, R., R.L. Eng, and C.V. Davis (preparers). 1984. A list of Montana birds. Helena, MT: MT Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Hejl, S.J., R.L. Hutto, C.R. Preston, and D.M. Finch. 1995. The effects of silvicultural treatments on forest birds in the Rocky Mountains. pp. 220-244 In: T.E. Martin and D.M. Finch (eds). Ecology and Management of Neotropical Migratory Birds. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press. 489 p. Hoffmann, R.S. 1960. Summer birds of the Little Belt Mountains, Montana. Missoula, MT: Occasional Papers of Montana State University No. 1. 18 p. 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. Kessler, W.B. and T.E. Kogut. 1985. Habitat orientations of forest birds in southeastern Alaska. Northwest Sci. 59(1): 58-65. Knopf, F.L. 1986. Changing landscapes and the cosmopolitism of the eastern Colorado avifauna. Wildlife Society Bulletin 14(2):132-142. 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: Beaverhead Gateway, Dillon, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.011. 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: Big Spring Creek, Lewistown, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.029. 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: Cow Coulee, Townsend, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.013. 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: Lawrence Park, Kalispell, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.008. 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: Big Spring Creek, Lewistown, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.029. February 2003. In 2002 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. I. Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2002: Musgrave Lake, Zurich, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.019. May 2003. In 2002 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. II. 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Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution, 6th edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, MT. 144 pp. Martin, T.E. 1988. Habitat and area effects on forest bird assemblages: is nest predation an influence? Ecology 69(1):74-84. 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. Maxell, B.A. 2016. Northern Goshawk surveys on the Beartooth, Ashland, and Sioux Districts of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest: 2012-2014. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 114pp. McWethy, D.B. 2007. Bird response to landscape and pattern disturbance across productivity gradients in forests of the Pacific Northwest. Ph.D. Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 184 p. Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. 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Academic Press, Inc., San Diego, CA. 365 pp. Rogers, R.R and A. Rogers. 1995. A survey of nesting ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis) on public lands in Petroleum and Fergus counties, Montana. Prepared for the USDI Bureau of Land Management, Judith Resource Area. 17 p. 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. 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Corp., Boulder, CO., 1996, Wildlife baseline report for the Montana [Montanore] Project, Lincoln and Sanders counties, Montana. In Application for a Hard Rock Operating Permit and Proposed Plan of Operation, Montanore Project, Lincoln and Sanders Counties, Montana. Vol. 5. Stroiazzo, John. Noranda Minerals Corp., Libby, MT. Revised September 1996. 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. WESTECH Env. Services, Inc., Helena, MT., 2000, Reconnaissance of Wildlife and Fisheries Resources at the Ruby Garnet Alder Gulch Property. May 24, 2000. In Application for an Operating Permit and Proposed Plan of Operations, Alder Gulch Mine Project, Mad Western Technology & Engineering, Inc. (WESTECH)., 1991, 1991 Bull Mountains Mine No. 1 Terrestrial Wildlife Monitoring Study. In Meridian Minerals Company Bull Mountains Mine No. 1 Permit Application, Musselshell County, Montana. Vol. 7 of 14: Section 26 Western Technology and Engineering, Inc. (WESTECH)., 2001, Wildlife Monitoring Absaloka Mine Area Annual Report, 2000. Montana SMP 85005. OSMP Montana 0007E. February 2001. Wetlands West, Inc., Bozeman, MT., and Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2001: Stillwater River, Absarokee, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.032. July 2002. In 2001 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. II. 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 "Song Sparrow"
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