SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis) – (See images below)
DESCRIPTION: The Savannah Sparrow has a distinctive yellow spot before the eye that helps in differentiating it from other similar sparrows. The back is brown with darker streaks. The underparts are grey with brown streaks. The bird also has a faint brown marking in the middle of the breast. The brown head feathers are sometimes raised, giving the appearance of a crest. Its length is about 15 cm (6 inches). The Savannah sparrow has many subspecies that vary in plumage.
NAME: The English name ‘Sparrow’ derives from Anglo-Saxon ‘Spearwa’, which means ‘flutterer’, and it has been applied to many small birds (Choate). The name ‘Savannah’ does mean it can be found in the savannah, but rather from the town name in Georgia where the first specimen was found. The Latin genus name ‘Passerculus’ means ‘little sparrow’. The Latin species name ‘sandwichensis’ is unlikely to refer to the former name of the Hawaiian Islands, rather to one of a few places with that name in the continental USA or in Ontario.
HABITAT: Fields, grasslands and other open spaces.
DIET: Mostly insects in the summer, mostly seeds in the winter.
NESTING: The nest is placed on the ground in a well-concealed area. An average of four creamy eggs are laid, which are incubated by the female. Both parents feed the chicks.
DISTRIBUTION: Savannah sparrows are widespread in North America. They breed through all of Canada, Alaska, and the northern part of the USA. This bird winters in the southern part of the USA and Mexico. Some vagrants have been able to reach Hawaii (see note below on bird vagrancy).
ON PEI: The Savannah sparrow breeds on Prince Edward Island and is very common, except in the winter.
CONSERVATION: This sparrow has a large population in the 170 million range, and is currently not at risk. One subspecies called the Ipswich Sparrow is of ‘Special Concern’ as per COSEWIC. Some reasons include bad weather events, loss of breeding habitat, degradation of beaches to development on migration areas.
Vagrancy: In biology this means an animal going way outside its normal range. For birds, this can happen when there are storms and they get blown off course. On other times, the bird simply wanders in a different direction than usual. Here’s an article about vagrancy in birds.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow – Brackley Marsh, PEI National Park – Mar 7, 2018 – photo by Roberta Palmer
Savannah sparrow, PEI, Roberta Palmer
Savannah Sparrow Borden, PEI – Sept. 2, 2013 – photo by Roberta Palmer
Savannah sparrow, PEI, Roberta Palmer