Grasshopper Sparrow

Ammodramus savannarum
Range Map

As its name suggests, the Grasshopper Sparrow loves dense grasslands. Not only are they fond of eating grasshoppers, their song sounds similar to their favorite prey. These birds are smaller than most of their sparrow cousins and because they usually stay on the ground, they are difficult to spot in the field. In the breeding season, the males will sing from slightly elevated perches in the grass fields they love.

Summer breeding takes place over most of the USA east of the Rocky Mountains and the coastal strip in California. Some of these birds will breed west of the Rockies in Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington. In winter, they migrate into the southeastern states of the USA and most of Mexico.

Today’s science recognises twelve subspecies of Grasshopper Sparrow:

  • A. s. perpallidus, A. s. ammolegus, A. s. pratensis, and A. s. floridanus all breed in North America.
  • A. s. cracens, A. s. bimaculatus, A. s. beatriceae, and A. s. caucae, breed from southern Mexico to northern Ecuador.
  • A. s. savannarum, A. s. borinquensis, A. s. intricatus, and A. s. caribaeus, breed on Caribbean Islands.

Of the four North American subspecies:

  • A. s. perpallidus breeds in southern Canada and in the USA south to California and east to Minnesota, south to Oklahoma and central Texas, and northwestern Mexico. Their winter range is in the southern USA, Mexico and from Guatemala to El Salvador.
  • A. s. ammolegus breeds in southern Arizona and nearby northwestern Mexico. They spend winters in western Mexico, south to Oaxaca and Guatemala.
  • A. s. pratensis breeds east of the Great Plains from Wisconsin through Michigan, southeastern Canada, south to eastern Oklahoma, northeastern Texas, Arkansas, North Carolina and Virginia. They spend winters from the southern limits of their breeding range south to the Bahamas, Cuba, Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
  • A. s. floridanus is resident in central Florida.

I’ve only met these elusive sparrows four times. My first encounter occurred east of Oceanside California in 2004 while I was at the bidding of the San Diego Natural History Museum (SDNHM). I was trying to find subjects for the San Diego County Bird Atlas. A year later, while passing through Idaho and on my way to Alaska, I found them on the Camas Prairie above Kooskia and Kamiah. Later, I met them during a 2009 BioBlitz with the SDNHM team at Mission Trails Regional Park. My most recent encounter was on my 16,000 mile North American expedition in 2022, as I explored the Sandhills of Nebraska.

In 2023, I spent the day meeting birds at the 1,862-acre Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia. An hour outside of the Washington D.C. metro region, I found one a Grasshopper Sparrow in the meadows below the mountain of the Appalachian Trail.

14 Photos

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