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Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow
Melospiza georgiana
Order: Passeriformes; Family: Emberizidae

The Swamp Sparrow is a lovely little bird, with an unmarked, pale gray breast, almost pearly in color, and reddish wings decorated with thick black, brown, and gray stripes. During breeding, red feathers often cap his head to enhance his appearance even further.

In addition to being good-looking, he is rather mysterious. He generally lives alone ... in a swamp. He can often be seen stalking up and down at the water’s edge, almost as though weighty issues are pressing on his mind, but he is only searching for a good meal.

His extra-long legs enable him to go wading. Sometimes he will plunge his head down under the water to catch the crayfish, snails, and clams that he likes. During breeding seasons, he of course abandons his solitary lifestyle.

His song to attract a mate is so slow (compared to other sparrows’) that the notes can be counted. He will even sing during the night, another rarity for sparrows – at 2:30 am on one occasion. This was on a moonlit night. Who says good-looking males aren’t romantic?

Although their breeding occurs in a swamp, Swamp Sparrows prefer a watery habitat at all times. Winters find them close to water in grassy, weedy, or brushy areas. During migration, they take rest stops, in wet, weedy fields. They stick to the Eastern and Southern United States, although in Canada they may go a little farther west.

Wetlands conservation is important to help maintain a stable Swamp Sparrow population.

Swamp Sparrow


Above © Julia Flanagan; Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax, Virginia

Lower left © Tony Coomer, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Woodbridge, Virginia

Text by Ellen Katinas