Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Savannah Sparrow - Passerculus sandwichensis
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General Comments The Savannah Sparrow is one of the more abundant sparrows in North America, nesting commonly in a variety of grasslands and tundra from Alaska to Newfoundland, and south to the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians to North Carolina. It winters across the southern third of the country, and this includes most of North Carolina. In the breeding season, in North Carolina, it is limited to the northern counties and is found mainly in pastures/meadows. Such habitats are declining, as more pastures are being converted to Christmas tree plantations and residential areas. Positive breeding evidence, such as finding an active nest, has yet to be accomplished, though adults have been seen carrying food, and it clearly does nest in the state. In migration and winter, Savannah Sparrows are found in short-grass habitats, where there is some cover -- pastures, harvested croplands with some grass cover, and weedy fields (but where the vegetation is less than a foot high). Unlike some sparrows that are secretive in grassy cover, the Savannah flushes easily to fences, shrubs, trees, and other conspicuous places. The Ipswich subspecies (princeps) is an uncommon winter resident along the immediate coast, in dunes.
Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status SR
U.S. Status
State Rank S2B,S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident, with migratory movements. In winter, common to very common in the eastern third of the region, including Tidewater; generally common elsewhere, though can be less numerous during and after severe weather. Can be somewhat more common -- often very common -- in migration. Mainly early or mid-Sep to early May, and often to mid-May. One was very late at the Voice of America Site A (Beaufort) on 5 Jun 2018. Peak counts: "Ipswich" subspecies -- 14, Coquina Beach (Dare), 17 Feb 2003; 12, Fort Macon SP (Carteret), 26 Feb 2020.
Piedmont Winter resident, and transient. Apparently now nesting in parts of Wilkes, as a juvenile was seen with two adults in the eastern part of the county on 8 Jul 2021, and three singing males and a female were seen near Lomax on 9-10 June 2021. In winter, fairly common in the eastern and southern parts of the region; uncommon to fairly common in the central portion; uncommon in the western/foothill areas. Can be common to very common in migration. Mainly mid-Sep to early May. Peak counts:
Mountains Summer resident, transient, and sparse winter resident. In summer, rare to uncommon in the northernmost counties (Ashe, Alleghany, and Watauga); casual to locally very rare as a breeder farther south (i.e., Henderson and Transylvania). One was singing on territory at Hooper Lane (Henderson) on 13 Jun 2005; another was singing at that location from 13-17 Jul 2014; two were seen there on 24 Jul 2016; and a singing bird was at another site in that county from 23-28 Jun 2009. In addition, two birds, one of which was carrying food, were seen in Transylvania on 24 Jul 2018. Also in this last county, three singing males were along Wilson Road near Brevard on 9 Jun 2020, strongly suggestive of breeding. An excellent eight near Mills River (Henderson) on 29 May 2022 is also strongly suggestive of breeding. First noted in summer in the state in 1983. Common in migration in the region. In winter, uncommon in lower elevation valleys in the southern part of the region, but rare farther northward, and likely not overwintering in the northern mountains. Peak counts:
Finding Tips None needed; easy to find in winter, at least near the coast.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-31], LeGrand[2022-09-14], LeGrand[2021-11-07]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.