Grasshopper Sparrow

Ammodramus savannarum

Bob Martinka
  • EMBERIZINAE
  • Sparrows, Buntings, Towhees, Longspurs
  • Passeriformes
  • Gorrión saltamontes
  • Bruant sauterelle
Introduction

A fairly nondescript, small brown bird, the Grasshopper Sparrow has a short tail and a flat head and is often found hiding in larger patches of grassland, usually with few shrubs or trees, in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and adjacent portions of southern Canada.

 

Fun Fact

To consume a grasshopper, a Grasshopper Sparrow will first pierce the thorax to cause paralysis and then systematically remove the legs in sequence.

Bird Sounds
© Lang Elliot, Nature Sound Studio
Vocalization

The song is an insect-like trill preceded by two short, quiet notes.

Appearance Description

A fairly nondescript, small brown bird with a short tail and a flat head that spends a lot of time hiding in the grass. Look for a plain buffy chest, a yellow-orange spot in front of the eye, and a white line on top of the head.

Range Map
Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution

Breeds mostly in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and adjacent portions of southern Canada, but there are isolated breeding populations in the western states as well. Winters in the southern United States, most of Mexico, the Greater Antilles, and parts of Central America.

Habitat

Prefers larger patches of grassland, usually with few shrubs or trees; specific preferences vary in different parts of the range.

Feeding

The Grasshopper Sparrow is mainly a visual predator that forages on the ground. Feeds on the seeds of panic grass and sedges during the winter, and on insects (primarily grasshoppers) during the summer.

Reproduction

Nests are difficult to find and very unique, having a dome structure with overhanging grasses and an entrance on the side. Can have more than 2 broods in a season if the weather is favorable, and populations in Florida and Jamaica can have up to 4. Clutch size is usually 4-5 eggs. Cooperative brooding is relatively common – unrelated adults and adults whose own nests were recently destroyed will help feed and brood other birds’ chicks.

Migration
  • 11 million
  • 11 million
  • 31 million 40 years ago
  • 65 percent in 40 years
Population Status Trends
Conservation Issues
  • Threats: Conversion of grassland habitats to cropland continues in the Great Plains. Woody vegetation is penetrating natural grasslands in the eastern United States. Hayfields and other managed grasslands are often mowed during the breeding season. Some grasslands are burned too frequently or grazed too heavily to retain enough cover for breeding.

  • Outlook: It is hard to imagine this grassland bird species ever approaching the abundance it had before Europeans transformed the continent for modern agriculture; however, increasing recognition of the importance of grassland conservation should make it possible to maintain this species throughout much of its range.
What You Can Do
  • Preserve Farmlands
    Promote strong conservation provisions in the federal farm bill, especially the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which pays farmers to keep marginal farmlands idle and supports millions of acres of good bird habitat. Contact your county’s office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or Farm Service Agency (FSA) to find out how to increase the number of acres devoted to helping birds dependent on farmlands.

  • Save Grasslands
    Be proactive with your local, state and national officials to increase the amount of habitat that can support breeding grassland birds, In particular support smart growth and protection of open space. Promote late mowing (preferably early August in most parts of the country) in hayfields and healthy public and private ranchlands devoted to livestock grazing. Urge parks to devote large parcels to prairie restoration. Volunteer at an Important Bird Area.

  • Maintain Ranchlands
    Support wildlife-friendly management of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies in the western states, including good regulations for grazing, fire, mining, and energy development. Support research and management actions against non-native, invasive plants; these actions help ranchers and wildlife.

  • Stop Invasive Species
    Work with county agricultural officials to help fight the spread of non-native annual grasses. Support strong federal, regional, state, and local regulations and research and management to combat non-native, invasive species.
More Information
Natural History References

Kaufman, Kenn. Guía de campo a las aves de Norteamérica. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Vickery, P.D. (1996). Grasshopper Sparrow (i>Ammodramus savannarum). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences and Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists’ Union. Retrieved from The Birds of North America Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Grasshopper_Sparrow/

Conservation Status References

Kaufman, Kenn. Guía de campo a las aves de Norteamérica. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Vickery, P.D. (1996). Grasshopper Sparrow (i>Ammodramus savannarum). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences and Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists’ Union. Retrieved from The Birds of North America Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Grasshopper_Sparrow/