Written by Peter Pearsall/Photo by Dan Streiffert
One of the most widespread sparrow species in North America, the savannah sparrow favors grasslands, prairies, deserts, and other open habitats. Their high, buzzing song is reminiscent of an insect’s trill and can be heard across much of the continent during the spring and summer.
This species is named after Savannah, Georgia, where the type specimen was described by Alexander Wilson in 1811. The breeding range of savannah sparrows stretches across the upper continental U.S. and extends up to subarctic and Arctic Canada and Alaska. They spend winters in the southern half of the U.S. and down into Mexico and Central America. These sparrows are common at Malheur Refuge from spring to fall.
Savannah sparrows, especially those breeding in coastal areas and on islands, exhibit what is known as natal philopatry—the strong tendency for young to return to breed in the same areas that they were born. This trait has given rise to at least 28 distinct subspecies of savannah sparrow found across North America.