Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii


The Lincoln's Sparrow is often considered among the more elusive of North American birds often overlooked in migration because of its skulking habits and similarity to the Song Sparrow. It has a sweet, bubbling song that suggests a House Wren or Purple Finch.
J.J. Audubon first described the Lincoln Sparrow in Labrador on an expedition in 1883. “We found more wilderness in this species than in any other inhabiting the same country.” He named the bird after his travel companion Thomas Lincoln.
Melospiza lincolnii summers in south Alaska, B.C., across Canada to the Atlantic, in parts of north USA and the mountains of the west. Winters in Central America, Baja California, Florida and the Gulf Coast.


General: The Lincoln Sparrow is a medium-sized sparrow with a rather short tail, a broad gray streak over the eye (supercilium). Length 11.5-14.5 cm. 14.8-24. g weight.

Adult Male: Adult sexes are alike. Buffy wash and fine streaks on breast and sides, contrasting with whitish, unstreaked belly. Note broad gray eyebrow (supercilium), whitish chin and buffy eye ring.

Juveniles: Resembles adults but crown brown or grayish brown streaked, and supercilium brownish; edges of coverts and tertials may be somewhat rusty.

Similar Species: Song Sparrow is similar but lacks buffy chest colouring and has broader chest streaks and is larger. The adult Swamp Sparrow totally lacks chest streaks and the rusty colour of crown is brighter.

Behavior: Secretive, this sparrow skulks through underbrush. Singing males are inconspicuous as they sing from dense thickets advertising their 1 acre territory.  Feeding habits are scratching leaves on ground by kicking back with feet; eats insects, grain, seeds of weeds, grasses.

Habitat: They breed in and occupy boggy areas with stunted tamarack, black spruce and low willows and alders. Willow thickets and tangles, and cut-over areas where there is dense vegetation.


In migration and winter the Lincoln Sparrow occurs in dense low cover and rarely far from cover and do not seem to flock. They are generally said to be skulkers, but respond well to ‘pishing’ and are not hard to see.
Lincoln Sparrows often raise the crown feathers to form a short crest. This together with the eye-ring and the tail slightly cocked create a curious ‘wide-awake’ look.
The nest is placed on the ground in a well concealed shallow depression. The nest is a fragile cup of sedges and grasses and dead leaves, lined with finer grasses and sometimes hair. 3-6 eggs are greenish white, spotted with redish brown.

Conservation Status:

Numbers have increased slightly in both east and west, with highest breeding densities recorded in Quebec and Nova Scotia. However, only populations in Quebec and the northern spruce-hardwoods forests have shown significant declines (1982-1991).
Capture Rates

Not a breeder at Colony Farm, Lincoln's Sparrow is seen passing through in great numbers during Spring and Fall Migration. This is indicated by the peak of capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) in April/May and then again in August-October. The park seems to be especially important for these sparrows during Fall Migration as seen by the huge spike in September.


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