- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant; occasional during the winter months throughout much of Minnesota. The Song Sparrow was a very abundant species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Found across the southern half of Canada from British Columbia east to southern Quebec, southern Newfoundland, and Labrador. In the United States it occurs throughout much of the western United States, including southern Alaska, and throughout the north-central and northeastern states. Song Sparrows are rare to absent in the southern plains and Gulf coast states. A disjunct breeding population occurs in central Mexico. During the summer, the species reaches its highest breeding densities in the southern Great Lakes region, from Wisconsin east to southern Quebec (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 8/20 by Partners in Flight.
A short- to medium-distance migrant. Northern populations in Canada, the northern Great Plains, the Great Lakes, and New England are migratory; farther south they are year-round residents. Northern populations winter in the southern United States.
An omnivorous ground forager consuming insects and seeds.
A compact open-cup nest; usually located on the ground but may be found in shrubs or small trees, or attached to emergent vegetation in wetlands.
Since Roberts (1932) wrote his first comprehensive account of the Song Sparrow, it has been recognized as an abundant summer resident throughout the state. He wrote:
The Song Sparrow is among the most abundant and most generally distributed of Minnesota birds. Bushy meadows and the banks of lakes and streams are the chosen dwelling-places, but it is not confined to such surroundings and may be found almost anywhere about prairie groves, upland fields, clearings, and gardens, shunning only the deep shade of heavy timber.
At the time, nesting was confirmed (nest with eggs) in 12 counties across central and northern Minnesota as well as at Itasca State Park and in the regions of Mille Lacs, Cass Lake, and Leech Lake.
The Song Sparrow is a complicated and extraordinary little bird. It displays more morphological variation than any other species in North America (Arcese et al. 2002). In the early 20th century, Roberts (1932) sent 61 Minnesota specimens to the U.S. Biological Survey for analysis and identification. All but 3 of the specimens were ascribed to Melospiza melodia juddi, the Dakota Song Sparrow. The remaining three specimens were ascribed to the Eastern Song Sparrow, M. m. melodia. Both subspecies have now been combined into M. melodia, which ranges across the northern United States and southern Canada, from the Great Plains east to the Atlantic coast.
Decades later both Green and Janssen (1975) and Janssen (1987) stated that the Song Sparrow was one of the “most numerous and evenly distributed breeding species in the state.” Janssen (1987) identified 32 counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) later added 10 counties to the list. Beginning in the late 1980s, field staff with the Minnesota Biological Survey documented 3,228 breeding season locations for Song Sparrows, covering all regions and counties in the state (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
MNBBA participants reported 9,019 Song Sparrow detections in 79.7% (3,828/4,804) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 95.0% (2,222/2,338) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was documented in 587 (12.2%) surveyed blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The species was reported in all 87 Minnesota counties and was confirmed breeding in 80 counties (2 blocks each straddled 2 counties). In total, Song Sparrows were the fourth most common species observed during the atlas, behind the American Robin, Common Yellowthroat, and Red-winged Blackbird.
The MNBBA predicted distribution map reflects both the species’ abundance and broad distribution throughout Minnesota (Figure 4). High breeding densities are concentrated in a band that runs through the Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province and northwest through the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Province. The lowest breeding densities are predicted only for the core of the Twin Cities metropolitan region and portions of many of the densely forested counties including Cook, Lake, Koochiching, and St. Louis. Overall, there are few areas in the state where one is not guaranteed of seeing and hearing Melospiza melodia, the “melodious singing sparrow” (Erickson 1988).
Historically, the distribution of the Song Sparrow appears to have changed very little. Although it has always found suitable habitat in small wetlands and forest openings in the most heavily forested landscapes, the clearing of many such areas for agricultural and urban development has created even more habitat opportunities in many regions (Arcese et al. 2002). As the MNBBA results and the MNBBA probability map demonstrate, intensive development is not a deterrent to the species.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.