Savannah Sparrow

Passerculus sandwichensis
Savannah Sparrow specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A small (4 ½ -5 ¾ inches) bunting, the Savannah Sparrow is most easily identified by its mottled brown back, streaked breast and belly, and yellow eye-stripes. Numerous geographic races exist in this species’ wide range, some much paler or darker on the back and head than the typical race. Male and female Savannah Sparrows are similar to one another in all seasons. The Savannah Sparrow breeds across Alaska, Canada, and the northern half of the United States. In winter, most populations migrate south to the southern half of the United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America. Populations breeding in coastal California, Baja California, and central Mexico are non-migratory. Savannah Sparrows breed in open and semi-open habitats, including grassland, marshes, agricultural fields, and tundra. Similar habitat types are utilized in winter as in summer. Savannah Sparrows primarily eat insects in summer, switching over to seeds and grains during the winter. In appropriate habitat, Savannah Sparrows may be observed foraging for food on the ground below shrubs and grasses. Birdwatchers may also listen for this species’ song, a whistling “tsit-tsit-tsit tseee-tsaaay,” in order to separate it from other drab grassland birds. Savannah Sparrows are most active during the day, but, like many migratory songbirds, this species migrates at night.

DC Information

Fairly common migrant. March to May and September to November. Common in winter, in meandering flocks. Found in overgrown pastures during migrations and in agricultural fields and on beaches during the winter. Sexes are similar.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC31286 Passerculus sandwichensis (Savannah Sparrow)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC16926 Passerculus sandwichensis (Savannah Sparrow)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC17092 Passerculus sandwichensis (Savannah Sparrow)