Song sparrow

Expand all

More names for this bird

Dakota: Wakasaŋsaŋ (sparrow)

The Dakota and Anishinaabe were among the earliest people to name Minnesota’s plants and animals, as well as to understand them in relation to Minnesota’s climate and seasons. Those original names are still in use, and several are included on the Season Watch website. However, complete translations were not available.

Latin (or scientific name): Melospiza melodia

The scientific community has a convention of assigning agreed-upon Latin names to every kind of organism. Using scientific names helps people communicate confidently about the same organism and organize lifeforms based on how closely related they are.

The song sparrow has a fairly medium bill, a long tail, and its breast and sides are white with dark streaks.
Song sparrow perched on a twig.
May 6, 2022, Toronto County, Ontario, Canada
Photo © Tatiana Svidskaia, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)
iNaturalist observation

About the song sparrow

  • Common in Minnesota, this medium-sized sparrow can be identified by the russet stripes on the crown and bold streaking on the breast.
  • Song sparrows occupy a wide variety of habitats, including marshes, prairie, open woodland and forest edges.
  • In summer, song sparrows eat mostly insects and seeds. In winter, they rely more heavily on seeds. They forage on the ground and in shrubs, and will visit bird feeders if nearby cover is adequate.
  • Fun fact: The appearance of song sparrows varies considerably across North America. In some areas, they are darker in color with bolder streaking, while in other areas they have more subtle coloration.
  • Song sparrows migrate. Expand the "Migration animation" section below to learn more.

Expand all

Migration animation

Click the full-frame icon (lower right corner of video) to play at full size.

Video file

More about eBird's abundance animations

eBird data from 2006-2020. Estimated for 2020. Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, W. Hochachka, L. Jaromczyk, C. Wood, I. Davies, M. Iliff, L. Seitz. 2021. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2020; Released: 2021. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.

Visual guide to phenology

Watch for changes in song sparrows' presence (or absence), abundance, and behaviors at different times of year. Also, pay attention to when young-of-year appear and develop.

Expand all

Note to observers

This page explains general clues to watch and listen for when observing song sparrow phenology. However, this page does not explain how to identify this bird or collect data in a standardized way.

Song sparrow on a snowy branch. Its back, which is streaked with brown, tan, rust, and a little black, is turned to the viewer.
Song sparrow on the ground before things green up in spring.
Song sparrow singing. Its streaky breast has a central "stickpin" (darker patch) that can be a helpful fieldmark.
Song sparrow with nesting material (straw and dried vegetation) in its bill.
A song sparrow nest, hidden behind grasses and weeds, contains five eggs. The eggs are pale blue with brown speckling.
Song sparrow perched on a twig with a moth in its bill against a bright blue sky.
A parent song sparrow feeds its young. Both are on the ground.
Song sparrow perched with an autumnal background

Audio resources

Visit All About Birds for recordings of songs and calls by song sparrows.

Graphs and historical data

Note: The Orientation Center provides a map, as well as information on reading graphs; interpreting summary statistics, who collected the data and how; and how to download datasets for independent exploration.

Sherburne County


  • Earliest: February 28 (occurred in 2000)
  • Average: March 29
  • Latest: April 19 (occurred in 1998)
Scatterplot showing song sparrow phenology observations in Sherburne County, Minnesota

Download this dataset (.csv file)