Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia


Song Sparrow
The Song Sparrow is one of the most widespread and numerous songbirds in North America, and quite variable in appearance over its range, though variation tends to be by degree (clinal) rather than by division into sharply differentiated subspecies or types. The bird above and the four below are of a general type widespread over most of California, characterized by fairly bright rufous on the wings and tail, and distinct dark streaks on the breast, sometimes merging into a central dark spot.


Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow


Song Sparrow


Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow
Above and below, birds of the distinctive subspecies pusillula found in salt-marshes around the south end of San Francisco Bay, marked by very small size, an especially small bill, and heavy dark streaking on both back and underparts, with little to no rufous coloration anywhere.

Song Sparrow


Song Sparrow
Above is the distinctive southwestern variation of Song Sparrow, pale gray and rufous overall; this form of Song Sparrow is found in the desert southeast of California, as well as in Arizona, where this bird was photographed.


Song Sparrow
Above, from Connecticut, is an eastern Song Sparrow, a type found over much of the
country, less rufous on the wings and tail but sometimes more so on the head and underparts
than the typical birds of central California, and with less extensive striping on the breast.


Song Sparrow
Above is a nesting Song Sparrow in Montana west of Yellowstone, carrying food to the nest. Sibley includes Rocky Mountain and Great Basin birds such as this one within the eastern type found across most of the country; note the limited underpart striping on this bird; also, the wing color can barely be seen in this photograph, but would be less rufous than in typical California birds, like the Connecticut bird just above. Sibley classifies the species into five regional types: eastern, southwestern, Aleutian, Pacific Northwest, and California coast. The last is a bit of a misnomer, as the widespread California Song Sparrow type includes those of the Central Valley; those not fitting this type are the eastern-like Great Basin birds of the northeast, the southwestern-type birds in the desert southeast of the state, and the very limited salt-marsh populations around San Francisco Bay. 


Song Sparrow
Juveniles, above, show less sharp striping and a more buffy background color to the body feathers. This bird still shows the typical juvenile yellow gape behind the bill.