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Nelson's Sparrow

Silhouette SparrowsSparrows
Nelson's SparrowAmmospiza nelsoni
  • ORDER: Passeriformes
  • FAMILY: Passerellidae

Basic Description

A colorful standout in a family of mostly streaky brown birds, Nelson’s Sparrows have bold yellow-orange faces, gray cheeks, and a neat band of yellow across a finely streaked breast. These notably short-tailed sparrows are furtive creatures, spending most of their time on or near the ground in dense marsh vegetation. They breed mainly in marshes in the northern Great Plains and along the northern Atlantic Coast. In winter they occur in saltmarshes alongside the very similar Saltmarsh Sparrow—the two were considered the same species until 1998.

More ID Info
image of range map for Nelson's Sparrow
Range map provided by Birds of the World
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Find This Bird

To find Nelson’s Sparrows on their breeding grounds, look for them in wet meadows and freshwater marshes, often alongside Yellow Rails and LeConte’s Sparrows. Listen for their high, hissing song—it’s short and unremarkable, so patience and bug spray might be needed. During fall, Nelson’s Sparrows migrate toward coastal marshes, to spend the winter mainly in saltmarshes of the southeastern United States. Fall migrants often respond to pishing sounds, but wintering birds are much less likely to.

Other Names

  • Chingolo de Nelson (Spanish)
  • Bruant de Nelson (French)
  • Cool Facts