Song Sparrow

Melospiza melodia
Range Map

Scientists consider Song Sparrows, in all their various forms, to be the most widespread of all North American Sparrows. From the northern prairie states, and north across central Canada, many of these birds spend their summers. A significant contingent spend winter in the mid-west and south to northern Mexico, and in large tracts in-between, they are year-round residents.

Today, science recognises 24 subspecies (three in the east and 21 in the west), in five groups of Song Sparrow in North America and Mexico:

  • Great Basin to eastern North America
    • M. m. melodia breeds in the Canadian Prairie Provinces and eastern Great Plains to Newfoundland, and south in the USA to northern Georgia. They spend their winters south to Florida and southern Texas.
    • M. m. atlantica lives from the US Atlantic coast from New York south to North Carolina. They spend winters from Maryland to Georgia.
    • M. m. montana breeds in the western USA throughout the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin from Washington to Montana, south to California and New Mexico. They spend winters from southern California to northern Mexico.
  • Alaska and Pacific Northwest
    • M. m. maxima lives in the western Aleutian Islands (Alaska).
    • M. m. sanaka lives in the eastern Aleutian Islands (Alaska).
    • M. m. insignis breeds on Kodiak Island and the Alaska Peninsula. During the non-breeding season, most move south along the Alaskan coast.
    • M. m. kenaiensis lives in Alaska on the Pacific coast of Kenai Peninsula and islands in the Prince William Sound. During the non-breeding season, most head south to British Columbia.
    • M. m. caurina lives on the coast of the Gulf of Alaska and in winter they retreat to the Pacific Northwest and south to northwestern California.
    • M. m. rufina lives on islands off the coast of southeastern Alaska and British Columbia (Canada).
    • M. m. morphna lives in central and southwestern British Columbia , and west of the Cascade range south to northwestern Oregon.
    • M. m. merrilli breeds in eastern British Columbia south to southeastern Washington and northwestern Montana. In winter most migrate south as far as southeastern California.
    • M. m. cleonensis lives west of the Cascades in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California.
  • Cismontane California (Chaparral)
    • M. m. gouldii lives on the coast of central California and on Santa Cruz Island.
    • M. m. samuelis lives in California in salt marshes around San Francisco and San Pablo Bays.
    • M. m. maxillaris lives in Suisun Bay (east of San Pablo Bay, California).
    • M. m. pusillula lives in south San Francisco Bay.
    • M. m. heermanni breeds in central and southwestern California, and northwestern Baja California (Mexico). In the non-breeding season, many migrate south to southern California.
    • M. m. graminea lives on the Channel Islands off southwestern California, and Los Coronados Islands, off northwestern Baja California (Mexico).
  • Desert Southwest and northwestern Mexico
    • M. m. fallax lives in the USA’s desert southwest from southern Nevada and southwestern Utah south, including the eastern Mojave and Sonoran deserts, to the Gulf of California and southeastern Arizona.
    • M. m. rivularis lives in southern Baja California (Mexico).
    • M. m. goldmani lives in west-central Mexico.
  • Mexican Plateau
    • M. m. adusta lives in south-central Mexico.
    • M. m. villai lives in south-central Mexico.
    • M. m. mexicana lives in south-central Mexico.

To date, all my meetings with Song Sparrows have been in western states, such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, the Nevada-Idaho border, and Wyoming. Even in unexplored territories, their soft, familiar call notes bring a comfortable familiarity to my surroundings. When these birds sing their “maids-maids-maids put on your tea kettle-etl-etl” songs, a discerning ear can hear regional differences in the phrasing and renditions of these choruses.

Click map markers to reveal further information