Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
LeConte's Sparrow - Ammospiza leconteii
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General Comments The LeConte's Sparrow is another secretive grassland/marsh sparrow of the central part of the continent, breeding mainly in Canada and sparingly in the Northern states. However, it does not nest in the Northeastern states. It winters mainly in the South-central states, and is rare at that season in Atlantic coast states, including North Carolina. In our state, it was poorly known until well into the 20th Century, but by the latter decades of that century it was clear that some birds overwinter in the eastern Coastal Plain. In winter, it occurs in wet or damp grassy fields, especially fine grasses such as muhlys (genus Muhlenbergia) and where there are some brush piles for additional cover; a few have been seen in slightly brackish marshes. Most of these fields are in areas that had been clearcut in the past few years. Unlike other grassland sparrows, LeConte's have not shown an obvious decline, at least in the East.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S1?N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident, but scarce and easily overlooked. Fewer reports since about 2010, but whether that represents a global decline is not known. Generally rare in the southern Tidewater (south of Albemarle Sound) and coastal areas, including the southeastern corner of the region. Very rare farther inland (i.e., the central and western portion of the region) and northward (northern Tidewater). Mainly early Nov to mid-Feb, rarely into spring (late date is 28 Apr), but departure dates poorly known. Peak counts: 10, on the New Bern (Craven) CBC, 20 Dec 1999.
Piedmont Transient, and straggler into winter; scarce and poorly known. Very rare in both fall (between 23 Oct and 19 Dec), and again in late winter/spring (from 10 Feb to 30 Apr). The winter of 1999-2000 saw a good influx year for the species, with several reports, including the Piedmont's high count of up to 7 birds in Mecklenburg, 19 Feb - 15 Apr 2000 [Chat 64:108 link], [Chat 64:159 link]. Perhaps unique was one, and possibly two, present at Rea Farms in southern Mecklenburg from 19 Oct 2020 - 6 Mar 2021 -- the first Piedmont record of a truly wintering bird. Peak counts (other): 2 in Gaston, Dec 2011; 1 on many dates.
Mountains Transient, scarce. Casual, with only eight reports of single birds: in Franklin (Macon) on 17 Oct 1968 [Chat 34:2 link]; seen by many observers in Cullowhee (Jackson) on 15 May 1983 [Chat 47:113 link]; at Piney Creek (Alleghany) on 26 Apr 1987 [Chat 52:51 link] and again on 26-29 Jan 2007 [Chat 71:51 link]; at Brevard (Transylvania) on 11 Oct 2012 [Chat 77:35 link]; photographed near Brevard on 14 Feb 2020 [Chat 84:69 link]; photographed at Valle Crucis (Watauga) on 7 Nov 2020; and photographed in Spruce Pine (Mitchell) on 22-23 Apr 2021.
Finding Tips The only reliable spot in recent years has been at a privately-owned conservation area -- North River Farms -- in central Carteret. Otherwise, productive fields in one winter are normally not present, or are in poor condition, the next. Nearly all wintering sites are on private land, often on timber company lands, where clearcut within the past year or two.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-02-11], LeGrand[2023-03-31], LeGrand[2021-09-04]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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