Birds – Swamp Song Sparrow

(Melospiza georgiana) Finch family



Length—5 to 5.8 inches. A little smaller than the English spar-row.

Male—Forehead black; crown, which in winter has black stripes, is always bright bay; line over the eye, sides of the neck gray. Back brown, striped with various shades. Wing-edges and tail reddish brown. Mottled gray underneath, inclining to white on the chin.

Female—Without black forehead and stripes on head. Range—North America, from Texas to Labrador. Migrations—April. October. A few winter at the north.

In just such impenetrable retreats as the marsh wrens choose, another wee brown bird may sometimes be seen springing up from among the sedges, singing a few sweet notes as it flies and floats above them, and then suddenly disappearing into the grassy tangle. It is too small, and its breast is not streaked enough to be a song sparrow, neither are their songs alike; it has not the wren’s peculiarities of bill and tail. Its bright-bay crown and sparrowy markings finally identify it. A suggestion of the bird’s watery home shows itself in the liquid quality of its simple, sweet note, stronger and sweeter than the chippy’s, and repeated many times almost like a trill that seems to trickle from the marsh in a little rivulet of song. The sweetness is apt to become monotonous to all but the bird itself, that takes evident delight in its performance. In the spring, when flocks of swamp sparrows come north, how they enliven the marshes and waste places ! And yet the song, simple as it is, is evidently not uttered altogether without effort, if the tail-spreading and teetering of the body after the manner of the ovenbird, are any indications of exertion.

Nuttall says of these birds: ” They thread their devious way with the same alacrity as the rail, with whom, indeed, they are often associated in neighborhood. In consequence of this perpetual brushing through sedge and bushes, their feathers are frequently so worn that their tails appear almost like those of rats.”

But the swamp sparrows frequently belie their name, and, especially in the South, live in dry fields, worn-out pasture lands with scrubby, weedy patches in them. They live upon seeds of grasses and berries, but Dr. Abbott has detected their special fondness for fish—not fresh fish particularly, but rather such as have lain in the sun for a few days and become dry as a chip.

Their nest is placed on the ground, sometimes in a tussock of grass or roots of an upturned tree quite surrounded by water. Four or five soiled white eggs with reddish-brown spots are laid usually twice in a season.