Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Lincoln's Sparrow - Melospiza lincolnii
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General Comments Despite the Lincoln's Sparrow having a very wide breeding range, from Alaska to Newfoundland, and south through most of the Western mountain ranges, it is not a common bird in the East. The species' main abundance lies in the center and western part of the range. It winters in the southern part of the United States, southward into Mexico; the winter range includes the North Carolina Coastal Plain. Interestingly, it was essentially known only as a transient until the late 1960's or 1970's, when birders starting finding them on CBC's. In fact, this species is not often seen by the casual or inexperienced birder; most are seen with purposeful search -- by pishing, squeaking, or playback calls. Lincoln's are most frequently found in brush piles and hedgerows in otherwise large areas of fields (as opposed to wooded borders). They also are found in damp weedy fields, but they are not usually found in marshes, nor in very dry fields and thickets.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S2N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident, and poorly known transient. In winter, uncommon and easily overlooked in the southern Tidewater region (south of Albemarle Sound), and generally rare to locally uncommon elsewhere. Mainly mid-Oct to mid-Apr; earliest date is 1 Oct, and the latest is 26 May (the only May date from the province). Peak counts: 8, Pettigrew SP CBC, 30 Dec 2005; 7, Holly Shelter & Lea-Hutaff Island CBC, 16 Dec 2012; 7, in the Dare County Bombing Range, 30 Dec 2013; 7, east of Newport (Carteret), 11 Dec 2016.
Piedmont Transient, with a few lingering into early winter. In fall, rare to uncommon and easily overlooked; in spring, generally rare over the region (definitely more numerous in fall than in spring). Mainly mid-Oct to mid-Nov, and from mid-Apr to early May. Very rare in winter, mainly in Dec, but scattered records in Jan and Feb; probably does not overwinter in the region. One at the Dan River Game Land (Rockingham) from 20-23 Sep 2020 was quite early. Peak counts: 6, North Wilkesboro, 10 Nov 1961.
Mountains Transient. In fall, uncommon and easily overlooked, at least at the lower elevations; poorly known above 3,500 feet. In spring, rare to uncommon, at least in the lower elevations. Mainly late Sep to mid-Nov, and mid-Apr to early May. More "numerous" in migration in the mountains than farther eastward, though it still takes diligent observers to find them. Casual to very rare in winter; almost certainly does not overwinter in the region. Peak counts: 13, Warren Wilson College (Buncombe), 16 Oct 2014; 8, Warren Wilson College, 18 and 23 Oct 2018; 7, Boone, 25 Sep 1981; 6, Hooper Lane (Henderson), 16 Oct 2000; 6, Brookshire Park (Watauga), 16 Oct 2016; 6, Valle Crucis (Watauga), 24 Oct 2018.
Finding Tips If you bird around brush piles and thickets in winter in the Lake Phelps to Lake Mattamuskeet areas, you have a chance to find one or two. Birding in mountain valleys, such as at Jackson Park in Hendersonville, in mid-Oct, also could turn up a bird or two.
Attribution LeGrand[2021-03-06], LeGrand[2019-04-20], LeGrand[2017-08-25]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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