Savannah Sparrow

The Savannah Sparrow isn’t just a regular streaky brown bird! They are one of the most beautiful species of Sparrows. These understated but distinctive Sparrows are unique with their short tails, small heads, and a telltale yellow spot before their eyes and thus are very distinguishable.

About Savannah Sparrows

Savannah Sparrows are one of the most numerous birds in North America as the range of these birds covers the whole continent.

These birds are not seed birds and thus do not come to bird feeders but, swoop in for refuge during winter migrations if they find a pile of brush kept out for them. The name of these birds sounds like a nod towards their fondness towards grass; however, they were actually named after a specimen collected from Savannah, Georgia by a famous 19th-century ornithologist, Alexander Wilson.

So, don’t these super cute and ultra-unique birds with a range as large as the whole North American continent sound interesting? They do, right? Let’s learn in detail about them!

● Savannah Sparrow Photos, Color Pattern, Song
● Savannah Sparrow Size, Eating behavior, Habitat
● Savannah Sparrow Range and Migration, Nesting


Savannah Sparrow Color Pattern

Savannah Sparrows are streaked birds. They have a brown above and a contrasting white below. The upper parts are visibly brown with heavy black streaks while the underparts are white with thin black and brown streaks running through the breast and flanks. There is also a very distinct yellow patch on the face of these birds, right in front of the eyes.

Description and Identification

Savannah Sparrows are medium-sized streaky brown Sparrows with a very distinct yellow marking before their eyes. The Juveniles are streaked heavier and lack the intensity of the yellow patch and develop it while maturing.

Because of such unique distinctions, these birds can be told apart from the similar species of Sparrows including, Song Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows, and Lapland Sparrows.

Savannah Sparrows have a variety of subspecies and each subspecies have some distinct and unique features of their own. The Ipswich Savannah Sparrows from the Canadian Maritime Islands are large and have a pale gray-brown overall. The salt marsh dwelling Belding’s Savannah Sparrows appear darker because of heavier markings and have thinner crown stripes. The range-restricted subspecies of Savannah Sparrows, Large-billed Savannah Sparrows have a heavier bill than the others.

Another thing that helps in identifying these birds is their strong tendency to return to the area they hatched in every year. This tendency is called natal philopatry and makes it easier to distinguish Savannah Sparrows from other Sparrows.

Savannah Sparrow Song

In summers, Savannah Sparrows don’t shy away from establishing their presence with their sharp, loud, insect-like song in farm fields and grasslands.

Only the male Savannah Sparrows sing during the breeding season i.e. summer. This song is a 3 part song that lasts for 2-3 seconds. The song starts with a few quick short notes. The middle part is a thin, sharp, and loud insect-like buzz. The song then ends with a very quick lower thrill.

Apart from singing, like other grassland Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows give out a short chip note when alarmed, shooing off an intruder or while approaching its nest. This chip note sounds like a soft hissing “tss”.

Savannah Sparrow Size

Savannah Sparrows are medium-sized Sparrows. These birds are almost the size of a Song Sparrow. Even though the body of these birds is plump, the tail seems fairly shirt while the head is small too. These birds measure about 4.3-5.9 inches (11-15 cm) in length with a wingspan of 7.9-8.7 inches (20-22 cm) and weigh around 0.5-1.0 ounces (15-28 g).

Savannah Sparrow Behavior

Savannah Sparrows are ground foragers. They walk on the ground foraging for bugs, occasionally hopping and running to seize the prey. They also take quick and short flights in the grass while foraging.

During the breeding season, the male birds perch on the limbs of shrubs or fence posts to sing and establish territory. They also use vantages to keep an eye on the acquired territory. If a male enters another male’s territory, Savannah Sparrows engage in flutter fights to shoo away the wanderer. This fight includes the bird fluttering up with a cocked tail and dangling legs, beating wings slowly to hover in the air.

As territorial displays, male Savannah Sparrows also hold their wings vertically behind their backs. This display is also used to chase away intruders. These birds also engage in flutter fights with each other over females during courtship practices.

Savannah Sparrow Diet

Savannah Sparrows are ground foragers and they forage for bugs through the ground and grass by walking, hopping, and occasionally running. During the breeding season, Savannah Sparrows eat nutritionally rich insects and spiders. They stalk through grassy areas or along beaches in search of beetles, grasshoppers, and other bugs, as well as spiders, millipedes, and pillbugs snapping them up in their bill and swallowing them whole. The young are fed heavily with bugs as they are nutrition-rich and good for the growing hatchlings.

When the white masses frothy spittle masses appear of the goldenrod trees, Savannah Sparrows eat the spittlebug nymphs from inside the foam. During the wintering, these birds shift to a diet of seeds. In the coastal areas, Savannah Sparrows also eat small crustaceans.

Savannah Sparrow Habitat

Savannah Sparrows love grass. Thus, during the breeding season and even while wintering, they choose to live in grasslands with very few trees and shrubs including meadows, pastures, grassy roadsides, sedge wetlands, and cultivated fields planted with cover crops like alfalfa. In the coastal areas, they live in salt marshes and estuaries whereas, in northern Canada and Alaska, these birds live in Tundra Willows.

Range and Migration

The range of Savannah Sparrows pretty much covers the whole North American Continent. Savannah Sparrows live in the grasslands with very little tress as they love grass. The subspecies, Ipswich Savannah Sparrows live and breed in the Islands of the Canadian maritime and the coastal Nova Scotia. Belding’s Savannah Sparrows live in the coastal salt marshes and estuaries of southern California and Mexico. Large-billed Savannah Sparrows live in Northwestern Mexico and Baja California. The winters of these birds are mostly spent in the coastal areas of northeastern America and the east coast.

Savannah Sparrow Lifecycle

The average lifespan of Savannah Sparrows is almost 6-7 years in the wild. In the middle and southern parts of their range, many Savannah Sparrow males breed with more than one female. Though in the north of their range Savannah Sparrows tend to be monogamous. This is probably because the male helps raise the young.

The female builds the nest on her own and lays a clutch of 2-6 eggs. These eggs are pale green, blue, tan, or white in color with speckles and streaks. Colors vary greatly, sometimes even within clutches. The hatchlings are born after an incubation period of 12-13 days and they are naked with yellow-orange skin and closed eyes. The eyes open in four or five days and the nestling period is 8-13 days. The brood raised per season can go from 1 up to 4.


Savannah Sparrows hide their nests amid a thick thatch of the prior season’s dead grasses in densely vegetated areas. The nest is usually on the ground or low in grasses, goldenrod, salt marsh vegetation, or low shrubs such as blueberry,
blackberry, rose, and bayberry. The female chooses the nest site, often at the edge of the male’s territory forcing him to defend the new area and thus causing conflicts with the neighboring males.

The female Savannah Sparrows make the nest on their own in one to three days. The nest is about 3 inches across and composed of two parts: an exterior of coarse grasses and in the middle, a finely woven tiny cup of thin grass. This inner cup is about 2 inches across and 1 inch deep.

Anatomy of a Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrows are a medium-size Sparrows. Their body might be plump in appearance, but the tail is fairly short and the head is small as well. The bird has strong wings to engage in regular flutter fights and has strong but pretty slender and light legs for walking, running, and hopping while foraging. The bill is fairly short and wide at the base for a Sparrow. However, the subspecies, Large-billed Savannah Sparrow has a very thick and heavy bill among all the other subspecies.

Final Thoughts

Savannah Sparrows are abundant and are in the category of low concern species of birds. These birds were one of the few species to actually benefit from human activities in the early 20th Century as the changes in landscape converted forests into farmlands and grasslands. However, they may have lost ground to the urbanization that followed, and to shifting agricultural practices that favor intensive row-cropping for corn and soybeans instead of dairy farms and hayfields.

Savannah Sparrows are also susceptible to pesticides and because of their foraging style, they may actually ingest granules of pesticides spread in the ground in cornfields. Savannah Sparrow nesting can be disrupted when grassy areas are mowed or fields are hayed before the young have fledged. Overgrazing by expanding populations of Snow Geese in northern Manitoba may be reducing suitable habitat for Savannah Sparrows there.


Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes

At the Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Savannah Sparrows

The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Savannah Sparrows are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

Savannah Sparrow Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Savannah Sparrow. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.

Bird Feeders For Savannah Sparrows

There are many types of bird feeders. Bird feeders are a great addition to your backyard. Bird feeders will increase the chances of attracting birds drastically. Both kids and adults will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. There are a wide variety of bird feeders on the market and it is important to find the best fit for you and your backyard.

Bird Houses For Savannah Sparrows

There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. If you spend a little extra money on bird houses, it will be well worth every penny and they’ll look great.

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