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

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

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.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

The swamp sparrow is a medium-sized sparrow related to the Song Sparrow.

Adults have streaked rusty, buff and black upper parts with a unstreaked gray breast, light belly and a white throat. The wings are strikingly rusty. Most males and a few females have a rust-colored caps. Their face is gray with a dark line through the eye. They have a short bill and fairly long legs. Immature birds and winter adults usually have two brown crown stripes and much of the gray is replaced with buff.

Swamp Sparrows breed across the northern United States and boreal Canada. The southern edge of their breeding range coincides largely with the Line of Maximum Glaciation. A small number of morphologically distinct birds inhabit tidal marshes from northern Virginia to the Hudson River Estuary. This subspecies (M. g. nigrescens) winters in coastal marshes of the Carolinas and differs from the two inland Swamp Sparrow subspecies in having more black in a grayer overall plumage, larger bill, different songs, and a smaller average clutch size.

Their breeding habitat is marshes, including brackish marshes, across eastern North America and central Canada. The bulky nest is attached to marsh vegetation, often just above the ground or surface of the water with leaves or grass arching over the top. The female builds a new nest each year and lays an average of 4 eggs per clutch. Females give a series of chips as they leave the nest, probably to ward off attacks by their mate or neighboring males.

While Swamp Sparrows can be found year-round in small numbers on the southern edge of their breeding range, individuals are probably all migratory, primarily migrating to the southeastern United States.

Swamp Sparrows generally forage on the ground near the water’s edge, in shallow water or in marsh vegetation. In winter, their diet is principally fruit and seeds, while during the breeding season their diet is mainly arthropods.

The song of the Swamp Sparrow is a slow monotone trill, slower than that of the Chipping Sparrow. A male can have a repertoire of several different trills. The common call note is a loud chip reminiscent of a phoebe.

On to my photos:

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana

This is number 162 in my photo life list, only 188 to go!

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

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10 responses

  1. What a pretty bird the Swamp Sparrow is.

    June 25, 2014 at 3:15 am

    • Thank you Susan!

      June 25, 2014 at 9:07 am

  2. I like the shots of him on the willow! It looks like he caught a meal.

    June 25, 2014 at 6:15 am

    • Thanks Allen!

      June 25, 2014 at 9:07 am

  3. Most people (non-birders, perhaps) are rather dismissive about “sparrows” in general, but the more I learn about birds, the more interesting I find sparrows, since there are so many different varieties, some of them very pretty. Thanks for expanding my knowledge once again! Do swamp sparrows nest in northern Michigan? I will have to keep my eye out next time we are in an area of wetlands.

    June 25, 2014 at 9:52 am

    • Thanks Amy! I used to see a small brown sparrow-like bird and say to myself, “just a sparrow”. But, just like you, the more I learn, the more I appreciate them. In fact, identifying the American tree sparrow versus chipping sparrows was one of the major motivations for me to start my project of photographing every species of bird in Michigan.

      Yes, swamp sparrows nest up north, southern Michigan is the southern limit of their nesting range, they are more numerous farther north.

      June 25, 2014 at 10:11 am

  4. A very pretty little bird and a good collection of shots

    June 26, 2014 at 10:19 am

    • Thanks again! 😉

      June 26, 2014 at 2:51 pm

  5. Man, I love sparrows. Great info, too! 🙂

    July 1, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    • Thank you!

      July 1, 2014 at 1:45 pm