Lincoln's Sparrow

Melospiza lincolnii

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 1995
  • Elisabeth M. Ammon

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Lincoln's Sparrow.

See text for ranges of different subspecies.

Adult Lincoln's Sparrow; California, December.

Half Moon Bay, CA, 9 Dec 2005. Note crown pattern, buffy malar and buff-colored chest with fine streaking below. Non-breeding (Definitive Basic) plumage. ; photographer Brian L. Sullivan

Often considered among the more elusive of North America's birds,the Lincoln's Sparrow was first described by John James Audubon (“we found more wildness in this species than in any other inhabiting the same country”), who collected the type specimen during his Labrador expedition in 1833 and named it after his travel companion Thomas Lincoln. Because this species breeds only in boreal regions, exhibits a distinct preference for dense shrub cover, and is secretive in nature, much of its biology remains poorly documented.

The Lincoln's Sparrow is a distinct microsite specialist, preferring low willow cover with dense ground vegetation and building its nest in surprisingly boggy sites. Most easily recognized by its rich, warbling song, it shows less geographical variation in song than other species in its genus, perhaps a result of high dispersal rates among juveniles. Many key aspects of its natural history remain poorly quantified. Owing to its sexually monomorphic appearance, documentation of its sex-specific behaviors is also sketchy. Because of this sparrow's affinity for subalpine and subarctic ecosystems, it is an excellent model for studying the interactions between biotic and abiotic pressures on life histories of temperate songbirds.

Recommended Citation

Ammon, E. M. (1995). Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.