The Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

I’ve seen her or him twice before in recent weeks, always in the same low brushes between the North Basin water and the paved perimeter trail.  The yellow eyebrows give it away: it’s a Savannah Sparrow.  The smallish pink seed-eating beak and the short notched tail also describe this species.  It eats seeds and insects and mostly forages on the ground.  The Cornell bird lab website has these “Cool Facts” about the Savannah Sparrow:

  • The Savannah Sparrow’s name sounds like a nod to its fondness for grassy areas, but this species was actually named by famed nineteenth century ornithologist Alexander Wilson for a specimen collected in Savannah, Georgia.
  • Raising young is hard work: a female Savannah Sparrow must gather 10 times her weight in food to feed herself and her young during the 8 days they are in the nest.
  • The “Ipswich Savannah Sparrow,” a subspecies that breeds on Sable Island, Nova Scotia, is nearly 50 percent heavier than most other Savannah Sparrow subspecies. It is the palest race, and is found in winter in sand dunes along the Atlantic Coast. It was formerly considered a separate species.
  • In many parts of the species’ range, especially in coastal areas and islands, Savannah Sparrows tend very strongly to return each year to the area where they hatched. This tendency, called natal philopatry, is the driving force for differentiation of numerous Savannah Sparrow subspecies.
  • The oldest known wild Savannah Sparrow was at least 6 years, 10 months old. It was banded in Michigan in 1939 and recaptured in the same state in 1945.

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