Family New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)

Least Concern

Nelson's Sparrow (Ammospiza nelsoni)


French: Bruant de Nelson German: Nelsonammer Spanish: Chingolo de Nelson

Ammodromus [sic] caudacutus nelsoni

J. A. Allen

, 1875,

Calumet Marshes, Cook County, Illinois, USA


Has hybridized with A. leconteii. Until recently considered conspecific with A. caudacuta, but differs in its natural history; the two hybridize in NE USA (S Maine to N Massachusetts); precise ranges of the two on Atlantic coast not fully known, as references to “Sharp-tailed Sparrow” not always clear. Distinctive race subvirgata perhaps represents a distinct species; further study needed. Race altera poorly differentiated from nominate. Three subspecies provisionally recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • A. n. nelsoni (J. A. Allen, 1875) – Inland Nelson's Sparrow – Canada from NE British Columbia and S Mackenzie SE through Alberta to C & S Saskatchewan and C Manitoba, and in N USA in N, W & SE North Dakota, NE South Dakota and NW Minnesota; winters on Pacific coast of SW USA (California) and in extreme NW Mexico (N Baja California) and on Gulf Coast from Texas E to Florida Panhandle, also rarely S to Tamaulipas (NE Mexico).
  • A. n. altera Todd, 1938 – EC Canada from N Manitoba E to N Ontario and W Quebec; probably winters on Gulf Coast of USA (W to Texas).
  • A. n. subvirgata (Dwight, 1887) – Atlantic Nelson's Sparrow – SE Canada (S side of St Lawrence R in S Quebec E to New Brunswick, Prince Edward I and Nova Scotia), and in NE USA S to S Maine and N Massachusetts; non-breeding on Atlantic coast S to South Carolina and N Florida, casually N to New York.
  • Descriptive notes

    11–13·5 cm; 12·8–20 g. A fairly small sparrow, short tail having spike-like rectrices. Nominate race has broad grey median crownstripe (not sharply... read more


    Song, often in aerial display and often at night, likened to sound made by water dropping on to a... read more


    Breeds in wet freshwater grasslands, sometimes mixed with cat-tail (Typha) and ... read more

    Food and feeding

    In breeding season feeds almost exclusively on animal material, especially larval insects, spiders (Araneae) and amphipods, augmented with... read more


    Season late May to mid-Aug; race subvirgata sometimes double-brooded. Promiscuous and non-territorial; does not form pair bonds.... read more


    Migratory. Very difficult to detect during migration, and much remains to be learnt regarding... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Classified as “Rare” in the USA (Yellow WatchList priority species for conservation). Often common locally in appropriate... read more

    Recommended citation

    Rising, J. (2020). Nelson's Sparrow (Ammospiza nelsoni). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 29 February 2020).