Vesper Sparrow

Pooecetes gramineus
Vesper Sparrow specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (6 inches) bunting, the Vesper Sparrow is most easily identified by its streaked body, reddish-brown shoulders, and dark tail with white edges. Similar in shape to the Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), this species may be distinguished from the Song Sparrow by that species’ browner body, dark breast patch, and rounder tail. Male and female Vesper Sparrows are similar to one another in all seasons. The Vesper Sparrow breeds across much of the northern United States and southern Canada. In winter, most populations migrate south to the southern half of the U.S. and northern Mexico. Vesper Sparrows are present all year in a few areas, most notably in California’s Central Valley. Vesper Sparrows inhabit open or sparsely-vegetated habitats, including grasslands, prairies, and scrubland. The clearing of land in the eastern U.S. and Canada for agriculture allowed this species to expand eastward onto farmland during the nineteenth century, although this species is now experiencing declines in these areas as abandoned fields are reclaimed by forest. Vesper Sparrows primarily eat seeds and grains, adding insects and other invertebrates to their diets during the summer when these sources of food are available. In appropriate habitat, Vesper Sparrows may be observed foraging for food on bare ground or on the lower stalks of grasses. Males may also be observed singing this species’ song, a series of whistling notes recalling that of the Song Sparrow but higher-pitched and less buzzing. Vesper Sparrows are primarily active during the day, but, like many migratory songbirds, this species migrates at night.

DC Information

Common migrant, uncommon summer resident. Arrives in early March and leaves in October. Nests from mid-April to mid-August in overgrown fields. Sexes are alike.

Specimen Information

This description applies to the bird on the right.
Date:  4/6/1890
Collected By:  John R Massie/CW Richmond
Locality:  Washington, DC
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  176521

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC17095 Pooecetes gramineus (Vesper Sparrow)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC17096 Pooecetes gramineus (Vesper Sparrow)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC17154 Pooecetes gramineus (Vesper Sparrow)