Melospiza melodia - (Wilson, 1810)
Song Sparrow
Other English Common Names: song sparrow
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Melospiza melodia (A. Wilson, 1810) (TSN 179492)
French Common Names: bruant chanteur
Spanish Common Names: Gorrión Cantor
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.104278
Element Code: ABPBXA3010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Birds - Perching Birds
Image 11159

© Jeff Nadler

 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Aves Passeriformes Passerellidae Melospiza
Genus Size: C - Small genus (6-20 species)
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds. Seventh edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. [as modified by subsequent supplements and corrections published in The Auk]. Also available online: http://www.aou.org/.
Concept Reference Code: B98AOU01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Melospiza melodia
Taxonomic Comments: Exhibits a well-structured continental pattern of morphological variation, but mtDNA variation is not geographically structured and subspecies are not identifiable by mtDNA analysis (Zink and Dittman 1993, Ball and Avise 1992). MtDNA data indicate that there may be barriers to gene flow between island and mainland populations in Alaska that are more severe than barriers of some populations in the contiguous U.S., but not effective enough, or ancient enough, to have produced deep branches in the intraspecific mtDNA phylogeny; genetic distance is small, even among subspecies with very divergent phenotypes; phenotypic differences used to define subspecies may have evolved fairly rapidly or they may be environmentally induced (Hare and Shields 1992).
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 09Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 04Dec1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Nation: United States
National Status: N5 (19Mar1997)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5B,N5N,N5M (02Jan2018)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (S4B,S5N), Alaska (S5), Arizona (S5), Arkansas (S4N), California (S3?), Colorado (S5), Connecticut (S5B), Delaware (S5), District of Columbia (S5B,S5N), Florida (SNRN), Georgia (S5), Idaho (S5), Illinois (S5), Indiana (S4S5), Iowa (S5B,S5N), Kansas (S3B,S4N), Kentucky (S4S5B,S5N), Louisiana (S5N), Maine (S4N,S4S5B), Maryland (S5), Massachusetts (S5), Michigan (S5), Minnesota (SNRB,SNRN), Mississippi (SNA), Missouri (SNR), Montana (S5B), Navajo Nation (S3S4N), Nebraska (S4), Nevada (S5), New Hampshire (S5), New Jersey (S5B,S5N), New Mexico (S4B,S5N), New York (S5B), North Carolina (S5B,S5N), North Dakota (SNRB), Ohio (S5), Oklahoma (S5N), Oregon (S5), Pennsylvania (S5), Rhode Island (S5B), South Carolina (SNRB,SNRN), South Dakota (S5B), Tennessee (S4), Texas (S5), Utah (S4S5), Vermont (S5B), Virginia (S5), Washington (S5), West Virginia (S5N,S5B), Wisconsin (S5B), Wyoming (S5B,S5N)
Canada Alberta (S5B), British Columbia (S5), Labrador (S3B,SUM), Manitoba (S5B), New Brunswick (S5B,S5M), Newfoundland Island (S4B,SUM), Northwest Territories (SUB), Nova Scotia (S5B), Ontario (S5B), Prince Edward Island (S5B), Quebec (S5), Saskatchewan (S5B), Yukon Territory (S3B)

Other Statuses

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: BREEDING: southern Alaska and southern Mackenzie to northern Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, south to southern Baja California, southern Mexico, northern New Mexico, northern Arkansas, northeastern Alabama, and South Carolina. NON-BREEDING: southern Alaska, coastal and southern British Columbia, northern U.S., and southeastern Canada south through the breeding range and the southeastern U.S.

Overall Threat Impact Comments: Subspecies GRAMINEA of Santa Barbara Island, California, is extinct, due to habitat destruction by introduced hares followed by an extensive fire (Ehrlich et al. 1992).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDING: southern Alaska and southern Mackenzie to northern Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, south to southern Baja California, southern Mexico, northern New Mexico, northern Arkansas, northeastern Alabama, and South Carolina. NON-BREEDING: southern Alaska, coastal and southern British Columbia, northern U.S., and southeastern Canada south through the breeding range and the southeastern U.S.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The maps for birds represent the breeding status by state and province. In some jurisdictions, the subnational statuses for common species have not been assessed and the status is shown as not-assessed (SNR). In some jurisdictions, the subnational status refers to the status as a non-breeder; these errors will be corrected in future versions of these maps. A species is not shown in a jurisdiction if it is not known to breed in the jurisdiction or if it occurs only accidentally or casually in the jurisdiction. Thus, the species may occur in a jurisdiction as a seasonal non-breeding resident or as a migratory transient but this will not be indicated on these maps. See other maps on this web site that depict the Western Hemisphere ranges of these species at all seasons of the year.
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NN, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
Canada AB, BC, LB, MB, NB, NF, NS, NT, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at www.natureserve.org/conservation-tools/data-maps-tools.

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2002; WILDSPACETM 2002


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
CA Alameda (06001), Butte (06007)*, Colusa (06011)*, Contra Costa (06013), Los Angeles (06037)*, Marin (06041), Napa (06055), Placer (06061), Sacramento (06067), San Joaquin (06077), San Mateo (06081), Santa Barbara (06083), Santa Clara (06085), Solano (06095), Sonoma (06097), Stanislaus (06099)*, Sutter (06101)*, Yolo (06113), Yuba (06115)*
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
18 Sacramento-Stone Corral (18020104)+*, Lower American (18020111)+*, Upper Yuba (18020125)+*, Upper Bear (18020126)+, Butte Creek (18020158)+*, Honcut Headwaters-Lower Feather (18020159)+*, Upper Coon-Upper Auburn (18020161)+*, Upper Putah (18020162)+, Lower Sacramento (18020163)+, Middle San Joaquin-Lower (18040002)+*, San Joaquin Delta (18040003)+, Upper Tuolumne (18040009)+*, Upper Mokelumne (18040012)+, Upper Cosumnes (18040013)+, Suisun Bay (18050001)+, San Pablo Bay (18050002)+, Coyote (18050003)+*, San Francisco Bay (18050004)+, Tomales-Drake Bays (18050005)+*, Santa Barbara Channel Islands (18060014)+, San Pedro Channel Islands (18070107)+*
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A small bird (sparrow).
General Description: 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; 13-16 cm (NGS 1983, Peterson 1990).
Diagnostic Characteristics: Differs from the fox sparrow in smaller size (fox sparrow length 17-19 cm) and less heavy markings. Differs from the savannah sparrow in lacking yellow over the eye and having a rounded rather than notched tail. Differs from Lincoln's sparrow in having a less contrastingly striped crown and a wider eye ring and by lacking a band of creamy buff across the upper breast.
Reproduction Comments: Clutch size 3-6. Two, sometimes 3, broods per year. Incubation usually 12-13 days, by female. Young tended by both parents, leave nest at about 10 days, can fly well at 17 days, independent in 18-20 days more. Sexually mature in 1 year.
Ecology Comments: Breeding territory usually is less than 0.4 ha (Terres 1980).

On Mandarte Island, southwestern British Columbia, population fluctuations were caused by the effects of severe weather and nest parasitism by cowbirds on juvenile recruitment (Arcese et al., 1992, Ecology 73:805-822); further study indicated that colonization of the island by cowbirds apparently had little effect on the average number of song sparrows breeding there (Smith and Arcese, 1994, Condor 96:916-934).

Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Begins northward migration from southern wintering areas in late February, arrives in northernmost breeding areas March-May (Terres 1980).
Estuarine Habitat(s): Herbaceous wetland
Palustrine Habitat(s): Bog/fen, HERBACEOUS WETLAND, Riparian, SCRUB-SHRUB WETLAND
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Grassland/herbaceous, Old field, Shrubland/chaparral, Suburban/orchard, Woodland - Conifer, Woodland - Hardwood, Woodland - Mixed
Habitat Comments: Brushy, shrubby, and deep grassy areas along watercourses and seacoasts; marshes (cattail, bulrush, and salt); and, mostly in the northern and eastern portions of range, forest edge, bogs, brushy clearings, thickets, hedgerows, gardens, brushy past. BREEDING: Nests on ground, especially early in season, among clumps of dead grasses, weeds; later often 0.5-10 m up in small conifer, thorny bush, willows, cattails, cordgrass (Terres 1980).
Adult Food Habits: Granivore, Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Granivore, Invertivore
Food Comments: Eats mostly insects and seeds, some small fruits; forages in trees, grasses, bushes, and on open ground (Terres 1980).
Adult Phenology: Diurnal
Immature Phenology: Diurnal
Length: 16 centimeters
Weight: 21 grams
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Group Name: Passerines

Use Class: Breeding
Subtype(s): Foraging Area, Nest Site, Nesting Colony
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of historical breeding, or current and likely recurring breeding, at a given location, minimally a reliable observation of one or more breeding pairs in appropriate habitat. Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single breeding events outside the normal breeding distribution.

Mapping Guidance: Breeding occurrences include nesting areas as well as foraging areas.

For swallows and other species that have separate nesting and foraging areas, separations are based on nest sites or nesting areas, not to locations of foraging individuals. For example, nesting areas separated by a gap larger than the separation distance are different occurrences, regardless of the foraging locations of individuals from those nesting areas. This separation procedure is appropriate because nesting areas are the critical aspect of swallow breeding occurrences, tend to be relatively stable or at least somwhat predictable in general location, and so are the basis for effective conservation; foraging areas are much more flexible and not necessarily static.

Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: Significant dispersal and associated high potential for gene flow among populations of birds separated by tens of kilometers (e.g., Moore and Dolbeer 1989), and increasing evidence that individuals leave their usual home range to engage in extrapair copulations, as well as long foraging excursions of some species, make it difficult to circumscribe occurrences on the basis of meaningful population units without occurrences becoming too large. Hence, a moderate, standardized separation distance has been adopted for songbirds and flycatchers; it should yield occurrences that are not too spatially expansive while also accounting for the likelihood of gene flow among populations within a few kilometers of each other.

Be careful not to separate a population's nesting areas and foraging areas as different occurrences; include them in the same occurrence even if they are more than 5 km apart. Mean foraging radius (from nesting area) of Brown-headed Cowbird females was 4.0 kilometers in California, 1.2 kilometers in Illinois-Missouri (Thompson 1994). Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Brewer's Blackbirds, and probably Red-winged Blackbirds all forage up to 1.6 kilometers away from breeding colony (Willson 1966, Horn 1968). In one study, Brewer's Blackbirds were found as far as 10 kilometers from nesting area (Williams 1952), but this may be unusual.

For swallows and other parrerines with similar behavioral ecology, separation distance pertains to nest sites or nesting colonies, not to locations of foraging individuals. For example, nesting areas separated by a gap of more than 5 km are different occurrences, regardless of the foraging locations of individuals from those nesting areas. This separation procedure is appropriate because nesting areas are the critical aspect of swallow breeding occurrences, tend to be relatively stable or at least somwhat predictable in general location, and so are the basis for effective conservation; foraging areas are much more flexible and not necessarily static.

Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single breeding events outside the normal breeding distribution.

Unsuitable habitat: Habitat not normally used for breeding/feeding by a particular species. For example, unsuitable habitat for grassland and shrubland birds includes forest/woodland, urban/suburban, and aquatic habitats. Most habitats would be suitable for birds with versatile foraging habits (e.g., most corvids).

Date: 10Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G.

Use Class: Migratory stopover
Subtype(s): Foraging Area, Roost Site
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: For most passerines: Evidence of recurring presence of migrating individuals (including historical) and potential recurring presence at a given location; minimally a reliable observation of 25 birds in appropriate habitat.

For swallows: Evidence of recurring presence of migrating flocks (including historical) and potential recurring presence at a given location; minimally a reliable observation of 100 birds in appropriate habitat (e.g., traditional roost sites).

Occurrences should be locations where the species is resident for some time during the appropriate season; it is preferable to have observations documenting presence over at least 7 days annually.

EOs should not be described for species that are nomadic during nonbreeding season: e.g., Lark Bunting.

Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single events.

Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance somewhat arbitrary but intended to define occurrences of managable size for conservation purposes. Occurrences defined primarily on the basis of areas supporting concentrations of birds, rather than on the basis of distinct populations.

For swallows and other species with similar behavioral ecology, the separation distance pertains to communal roost sites rather than to foraging areas; the former tend to be more stable and specific over time than the latter.

Date: 03Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G., and S. Cannings

Use Class: Nonbreeding
Subtype(s): Foraging Area, Roost Site
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Any area used traditionally in the nonbreeding season (used for populations that are not resident in a location year-round). Minimally, reliable observations of 10 or more individuals in appropriate habitat for 20 or more days at a time. For G1-G3 species, observations of fewer individuals could constitute an occurrence of conservation value. Sites used during migration should be documented under the 'migratory stopover' location use class.

Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance is necessarily arbitrary but attempts to balance the high mobility of birds with the need for occurrences of reasonable spatial scope. Note that a population's roost sites and foraging areas are parts of the same occurrence, even if they are more than 5 km apart.

For swallows and other species with similar behavioral ecology, the separation distance pertains to communal roost sites rather than to foraging areas; the former tend to be more stable and specific over time than the latter.

Date: 03Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G.

Use Class: Nonmigratory
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a particular location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals in or near appropriate habitat.

These occurrence specifications are used for nonmigratory populations of passerine birds.

Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: Significant dispersal and associated high potential for gene flow among populations of birds separated by tens of kilometers (e.g., Moore and Dolbeer 1989), and increasing evidence that individuals leave their usual home range to engage in extrapair copulations, as well as long foraging excursions of some species, make it difficult to circumscribe occurrences on the basis of meaningful population units without occurrences becoming too large. Hence, a moderate, standardized separation distance has been adopted for songbirds and flycatchers; it should yield occurrences that are not too spatially expansive while also accounting for the likelihood of gene flow among populations within a few kilometers of each other.

Be careful not to separate a population's nesting areas and breeding-season foraging areas as different occurrences; include them in the same occurrence even if they are more than 5 km apart. Blue jays have small summer home ranges but fly up to 4 kilometers to harvest mast (Tarvin and Woolfenden 1999). Flocks of pinyon jays range over 21-29 square kilometers (Ligon 1971, Balda and Bateman 1971); nesting and foraging areas may be widely separated. Tricolored blackbirds forage in flocks that range widely to more than 15 kilometers from the nesting colony (Beedy and Hamilton 1999).

Unsuitable habitat: Habitat not normally used for breeding/feeding by a particular species. For example, unsuitable habitat for grassland and shrubland birds includes forest/woodland, urban/suburban, and aquatic habitats. Most habitats would be suitable for birds with versatile foraging habits (e.g., most corvids).

Date: 10Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G.
Notes: These specs pertain to nonmigratory species.
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 18Jan1995
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): HAMMERSON, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
Help
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  • See SERO listing

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  • Wildlife Management Information System (WMIS). 2006+. Geo-referenced wildlife datasets (1900 to present) from all projects conducted by Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories, Canada.  Available at http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/programs/wildlife-research/wildlife-management-information-services

  • Williams, L. 1952b. Breeding behavior of the Brewer blackbird. Condor 54:3-47.

  • Willson, M. F. 1966. Breeding ecology of the Yellow-headed Blackbird. Ecological Monographs 36:51-77.

  • Zink, R. M., and D. L. Dittmann. 1993a. Gene flow, refugia, and evolution of geographic variation in the song sparrow (MELOSPIZA MELODIA). Evolution 47:717-729.

  • eBird. 2016. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Available: http://www.ebird.org. Accessed in 2016.

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Note: All species and ecological community data presented in NatureServe Explorer at http://explorer.natureserve.org were updated to be current with NatureServe's central databases as of March 2019.
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Citation for Bird Range Maps of North America:
Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

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Citation for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
Patterson, B.D., G. Ceballos, W. Sechrest, M.F. Tognelli, T. Brooks, L. Luna, P. Ortega, I. Salazar, and B.E. Young. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Mammals of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

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"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Bruce Patterson, Wes Sechrest, Marcelo Tognelli, Gerardo Ceballos, The Nature Conservancy-Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International-CABS, World Wildlife Fund-US, and Environment Canada-WILDSPACE."

Citation for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe. 2004. Global Amphibian Assessment. IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe, Washington, DC and Arlington, Virginia, USA.

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"Data developed as part of the Global Amphibian Assessment and provided by IUCN-World Conservation Union, Conservation International and NatureServe."

NOTE: Full metadata for the Bird Range Maps of North America is available at:
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