My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia

The Song Sparrow  is a medium-sized American sparrow. Among the native sparrows in North America, it is easily one of the most abundant, variable and adaptable species and one of my favorites because of its song.

Although they are a habitat generalist, their favorite habitat is brushy areas and marshes, including salt marshes, across most of Canada and the United States. They also thrive in human areas, such as in suburbs, along edges in agricultural areas, and along roadsides. In southern locations, they are permanent residents. Northern birds migrate to the southern United States or Mexico, where there is also a local population resident all year round.

These birds forage on the ground, in shrubs or in very shallow water. They mainly eat insects and seeds. Birds in salt marshes may also eat small crustaceans. They nest either in a sheltered location on the ground or in trees or shrubs.

The male of this species uses its melodious and fairly complex song to declare ownership of its territory and to attract females.

The Song Sparrow’s song consists of a combination of repeated notes, quickly passing isolated notes, and trills. The songs are very crisp, clear, and precise, making them easily distinguishable by human ears. A particular song is determined not only by pitch and rhythm but also by the timbre of the trills. Although one bird will know many songs, as many as 20 different tunes with as many as 1000 improvised variations on the basic theme, unlike thrushes, the Song Sparrow usually repeats the same song many times before switching to a different song.

Song Sparrows typically learn their songs from a handful of other birds that have neighboring territories. They are most likely to learn songs that are shared in common between these neighbors. Ultimately, they will choose a territory close to or replacing the birds that they have learned from. This allows the Song Sparrows to address their neighbors with songs shared in common with those neighbors. It has been demonstrated that Song Sparrows are able to distinguish neighbors from strangers on the basis of song, and also that females are able to distinguish (and prefer) their mate’s songs from those of other neighboring birds, and they prefer songs of neighboring birds to those of strangers.

On to my photos:

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Male song sparrow belting out a tune

Male song sparrow belting out a tune

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

This is number 65 in my photo life list, only 285 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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5 responses

  1. I don’t know how you ever found these birds sitting still. It’s interesting that they learn their songs from other birds rather than from their parents.

    March 24, 2013 at 8:59 am

    • LOL, you’ve just hit on the hardest part of photographing smaller birds! Actually, song sparrows sit still much more than species like wrens or chickadees, but during summer, song sparrows tend to feed in and under thickets of brush along stream banks. Then, not only do you have to catch them sitting still, but doing so in a spot where you have a clear view of them, with enough light to get a good shot. It takes patience, persistence, and a willingness crawl back into the thickets to get good photos of smaller birds.

      As far as how they learn their songs, I am just passing on what the experts say. There must be some truth to it, as in my travels, I have noticed regional variations in the songs of most species of birds.

      March 24, 2013 at 9:52 am

  2. Great shots here and loved learning more about these birds. These are my husbands favorite bird, too. When we’re out hiking and he hears one he ALWAYS says so and I think it makes his day hearing that beautiful song!

    March 24, 2013 at 11:20 am

    • Your husband has good taste! I love the songs of most birds, they do make my day when I hear them. Makes me wonder why so many people wander around in the woods with earbuds stuck in their ears, shutting out the the music that nature provides so freely.

      March 24, 2013 at 2:24 pm

      • I totally agree.

        March 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm