Nelson’s Sparrow

Nelson’s Sparrow Ammospiza nelsoni

Type of Animal:

Marshes, wet meadows, freshwater wetlands w/ dense emergent vegetation, damp areas w/ dense grasses, sedge wetlands, wet prairies, rich fens w/ narrow-leaved sedges, farm fields

Found in Canada in S.C. Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan, S & NE Manitoba, Hudson Bay area of Manitoba/Ontario/Quebec, SE coast of Canada, & SE Ontario. In US, found in E & SE coasts as well as W New York, N Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, E Texas, Dakotas, NE Montana, E Nebraska, E Kansas, E Oklahoma, W Tennessee, W Mississippi, & W Kentucky. Disjunct nonbreeding populations on California coast & in N Baja California.

Adults have brownish upperparts w/ gray crown/nape, cream-colored breast w/ light/indistinct streaking, white throat/belly, orange face, gray cheeks, short pointed tail. Interior breeding sparrows more colorful than coastal breeding sparrows.

Insects, insect larvae, spiders, seeds, grains, amphipods, snails, small crabs, marine worms

Status in Wild:

Habitat monitoring. Monitoring of Atlantic population which are vulnerable to rising sea levels & may number around 35,000 birds.

Found in small to medium-size flocks. Breed colonially. 

Additional Info:

Male: Cock
Female: Hen
Young: Chick
Group: Flock

0.6-0.7 oz

2 weeks

Life Span:
6-7 years

4.3-5.1 in

Body Length:
4.3-5.1 in

Tail Length:
3 in

Main predators are mammals, larger birds, reptiles, & large fish.

These birds are rather secretive.

The song is a simple hiss or raspy trill akin to water sizzling in a frying pan.

Females raise 2 broods of 2-6 chicks each year.

Females build bulky open grass cup nests, usually close to ground.

Chicks stay w/ parents for 3-4 weeks.

While stable, these birds are vulnerable to rising water levels & habitat loss.

These birds are highly migratory.

They forage on the ground or among vegetation.

Also called Nelson’s Sharp-Tailed Sparrow.

They help control insect populations as well as play role as seed dispersers. 

Brown-headed cowbirds often parasitize nests of this species.

Maturity reached at 8-12 months.

Fun Fact(s):
Named after American naturalist Edward William Nelson.

A Criminal Minds episode was named after this bird due to each murder victim having an individual of this species placed on them.

These sparrows were once lumped w/ the Saltmarsh Sparrow as a single species known as the Sharp-Tailed Sparrow until 1995.

Unlike many songbirds, they run rather than fly from predators.
Nelson’s Sparrow, Morris Finkelstein

2 thoughts on “Nelson’s Sparrow


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