Family New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)

Least Concern

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)


French: Bruant chanteur German: Singammer Spanish: Chingolo cantor

Fringilla melodia

A. Wilson

, 1810,

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA


In genetic studies, little concordance found between mitochondrial DNA patterns and geographical variation in plumage and morphology, suggesting rapid post-glaciation radiation, combined with plumage evolution that has occurred more quickly than changes in mitochondrial DNA. As many as 52 races have been named, many of them weakly differentiated. Proposed races considered insufficiently distinct include: amaka (described from Amak I, in extreme E Aleutians), which is synonymized with sanaka, inexspectata (from c. 4.8 km E of L Moose, in British Columbia), synonymized with morphna, juddi (from L Rock, Tower County, in North Dakota), melanchra (Bay Point, Ohio) and euphonia (Cranberry Glades, Pocahontas County, in West Virginia), all included in nominate; in California, saltonis (from margin of Salton Sea 1.6 km SE of Mecca), subsumed into fallax, fisherella (from L Honey, near Milford), subsumed into montana, mailliardi (from Ranchos Dos Rios, near Modesto, in Stanislaus County) and cooperi (from San Diego), both synonymized with heermanni, and micronyx (from San Miguel I), clementae (from San Clemente I) and coronatorum (from North I, in Los Coronados Is, off NW Baja California), all synonymized with graminea; also, in Mexico, yuriria (from Yuriria, in SE Guanajuato), treated as synonym of adusta, and niceae (from Tulancingo, in Hidalgo) and azteca (from Lago de Zumpango, in México), both subsumed into mexicana. Thorough taxonomic review required. Race samuelsis originally spelt samuelis, but emended on basis of dedication “collected by Mr Samuels”#R. For subspecies group, name heermanni awarded priority over both gouldii and samuelsis by First Reviser acts#R. Twenty-five subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • M. m. maxima Gabrielson & Lincoln, 1951 – W Aleutian Is (Attu I E to Atka I).
  • M. m. sanaka McGregor, 1900 – #RE Aleutian Is (Seguam I E to Unimak I and Amak I), Alaska Peninsula E to Stepovak Bay and islands S of peninsula (Sanak I E to Semidi Is).
  • M. m. insignis S. F. Baird, 1869 – Kodiak I and Alaska Peninsula at Kukak and Katmai; non-breeding also S along Alaskan coast.
  • M. m. kenaiensis Ridgway, 1900 – Alaska on Pacific coast of Kenai Peninsula and islands in Prince William Sound; non-breeding also S to British Columbia.
  • M. m. caurina Ridgway, 1899 – coast of N Gulf of Alaska; non-breeding also in Pacific Northwest S to NW California.
  • M. m. rufina (Bonaparte, 1850) – Pacific Song Sparrow – outer islands of Alexander Archipelago, in SE Alaska, and in Queen Charlotte Is, in British Columbia (Canada).
  • M. m. morphna Oberholser, 1899 – C & SW British Columbia S (W of Cascades) in NW USA to NW Oregon.
  • M. m. merrilli Brewster, 1896 – E British Columbia S in USA to SE Washington and NW Montana; non-breeding farther S (S to SE California).
  • M. m. cleonensis McGregor, 1899 – W of Cascades in SW Oregon and NW California.
  • M. m. gouldii S. F. Baird, 1858 – C coast of California (except San Francisco Bay), also Santa Cruz I.
  • M. m. samuelsis (S. F. Baird, 1858) – San Pablo Bay and N San Francisco Bay, in California.
  • M. m. maxillaris Grinnell, 1909 – Suisun Bay, E of San Pablo Bay.
  • M. m. pusillula Ridgway, 1899 – S San Francisco Bay.
  • M. m. heermanni S. F. Baird, 1858 – California Song Sparrow – C & SW California and extreme NW Mexico (NW Baja California); non-breeding S to SE California.
  • M. m. graminea C. H. Townsend, 1890 – Channel Is (San Miguel and Santa Rosa; extinct on San Clemente and Santa Barbara#R), off SW California (USA), and Los Coronados Is, off NW Baja California (Mexico).
  • M. m. montana Henshaw, 1884 – W USA throughout Rocky Mts and Great Basin from SE Washington E to NC Montana, S to N & E California and N New Mexico; non-breeding S to SE California and N Mexico (E Sonora E to Coahuila).
  • M. m. melodia (A. Wilson, 1810) – Eastern Song Sparrow – WC Canada (Prairie Provinces and E Great Plains) E to Newfoundland, and S in USA (except middle Atlantic coast) to N Georgia; non-breeding S to Florida and S Texas.
  • M. m. atlantica Todd, 1924 – US Atlantic coast from Long I (New York) S to C North Carolina; non-breeding from Maryland S to Georgia.
  • M. m. fallax (S. F. Baird, 1854) – Desert Song Sparrow – SW USA from S Nevada and SW Utah S, including E Mojave Desert and Sonoran Desert, to Gulf of California and SE Arizona.
  • M. m. rivularis W. E. Bryant, 1888 – S Baja California (from San Ignacio S to Sierra Laguna), in W Mexico.
  • M. m. goldmani Nelson, 1899 – W Durango (El Salto), in WC Mexico.
  • M. m. zacapu Dickerman, 1963 – Michoacán (Zacapu), perhaps also in Jalisco (at Laguna Chapala), in SW Mexico.
  • M. m. adusta Nelson, 1899 – R Lerma from L Yuriria (Guanajuato) S to Pátzcuaro (Michoacán), in SC Mexico.
  • M. m. villai A. R. Phillips & Dickerman, 1957 – upper R Lerma drainage from Tarandacuao (Guanajuato) E to Toluca area (México), in SC Mexico.
  • M. m. mexicana Ridgway, 1874 – Mexican Song Sparrow – S Hidalgo, N México and Distrito Federal E to N Puebla and Tlaxcala, in SC Mexico.
  • Descriptive notes

    12–17 cm; 11·9–53 g. A medium-sized to large sparrow, largest in Aleutian Is and smallest in SW USA; rather long and rounded tail, often pumped up and down... read more


    Song variable, but distinctive, characteristically starts with a series of 2–4 loud, clear... read more


    Open and semi-open areas with some cover. Generally on border of ponds or steams (invariably so in... read more

    Food and feeding

    Variety of foods. In British Columbia and NE, eats more plant food than animal food, but percentage of animal items increases during... read more


    Season varies geographically, generally Mar–Aug in W and Apr–Jul in E; two or three broods. Generally monogamous, but up to 13... read more


    N populations generally migratory or partly migratory; S ones, including W coast populations as far... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common to very common in much of range. In USA, populations on Santa Barbara I and San Clemente I, off W coast of California, have been extirpated by... read more

    Recommended citation

    Rising, J. (2020). Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia). 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 24 February 2020).