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Swamp Sparrow

Melospiza georgiana

Length: 5 - 5.5 inches Wingspan: 7.5 - 8 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Bright rusty upperparts and on wings, rusty crown, gray face, dark line behind eye, white throat. 

Swamp Sparrow - Melospiza georgianaThe Swamp Sparrow is aptly named, as they are most often found in dense thickets of freshwater swamps and wetlands.  They are normally quite solitary, and while they may be locally common, they are most often encountered as single birds or pairs.  Males will sing day or night from high perches to establish nesting territories during the breeding season.


During the summer breeding season, they are found in freshwater wetlands with dense emergent vegetation, such as cattails and sedges, and often where woody vegetation such as alder or willow thickets are present.  A race on the Atlantic Coast breeds in salt-water marshes.  They are usually found in similar habitats in migration and in winter.


The summer diet is mostly insects. They also feed heavily on seeds, fruit, and other vegetative material, where it may make up the majority of the diet during the fall and winter months.


Most of its feeding is done while on the ground or at the water's edge. They will also occasionally wade in very shallow water or feed in the dense wetland vegetation.


June and July in South Dakota. The nest of a Swamp Sparrow is a cup composed of reeds, grasses, leaves, and coarser material, with an inner lining of finer material such as grasses, hair, down, and small roots. It is built in thick wetland vegetation such as reeds, in shrubs, or in other thick vegetation, with the nest placed within 4 feet of the ground and sometimes placed over water. They will also sometimes nest directly on the ground itself. The female alone builds the nest, lays 3-6 eggs, and incubates them. The young hatch after about 14 days, with another 10-14 days before they fledge from the nest.


A slow, strong, one-pitched trill, with a tempo that may vary based on season or geography. From the same wetland habitat you may hear variations on the theme, with faster trilling birds and slower trilling birds. They also have multiple short calls that may vary from being buzzy to short and sweet.


Summers throughout central and eastern Canada, and the eastern U.S. north of Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia.  Winters in the southeastern quarter of the U.S., in parts of the southwestern U.S., and in Mexico.

Interactive eBird map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Swamp Sparrow sightings

Similar Species:

Habitat is a primary clue for Swamp Sparrows, as they are well named and are often found in and around wetland vegetation. However, there are other sparrow species that are similar in appearance, or even sometimes use similar habitat:

Song Sparrow 14 - Melospiza melodia Song Sparrow 5 - Melospiza melodia Lincoln's Sparrow 19 - Melospiza lincolnii Chipping Sparrow 4 -  Spizella passerina
Song Sparrow Song Sparrow Lincoln's Sparrow Chipping Sparrow

Conservation Status:

Still widespread and fairly common, although numbers are much lower than historical levels due to loss of wetland habitat.  In recent decades numbers may be rebounding. The IUCN currently lists the Swamp Sparrow as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

September 17th, 2004 -- Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls -- Canon 300D, 400 5.6L lens

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Swamp Sparrow photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view

Swamp Sparrow - North American Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant and summer resident in the eastern part of South Dakota.  Casual migrant and accidental summer visitor in the western part of the state.

Additional Swamp Sparrow Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Swamp Sparrow 1 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 2 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 3 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 4 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 5 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 6 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 7 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 8 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 9 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 10 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 11 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 12 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 13 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 14 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 15 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 16 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 17 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 18 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 19 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 20 - Melospiza georgianaSwamp Sparrow 21 - Melospiza georgiana