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Grasshopper Sparrow
Ammodramus savannarum
– Family
Authors: Vickery, Peter D.

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Grasshopper Sparrow
Figure 1. Distribution of the Grasshopper Sparrow.

A small, inconspicuous grassland bird with an insect-like song, the Grasshopper Sparrow is easily overlooked. Indeed, Forbush (1929) described this species as “a queer, somber-colored, big-headed, short-tailed, unobtrusive little bird [that] did not come by its name because of its fondness for grasshoppers, though it is never averse to making a meal of them, but because of its grasshopper-like attempt at song—if song it can be called.” Not all ornithologists have shared this opinion, however; with more discerning eyes and warmer hearts, Phillips et al. (1978) described it as “an exceedingly handsome bird in the hand.” Interestingly, it is one of the few North American sparrows that sings two completely different songs.

In the breeding season this sparrow generally occupies intermediate grassland habitat, preferring drier, sparser sites in lush tallgrass prairies and eastern grasslands, and thicker, brushier sites in shortgrass prairie and southwestern grasslands. In the East, it is often found in the same habitats as the Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) but generally selects more open sites with greater amounts of bare ground, probably because it forages exclusively on the ground.

Although the Grasshopper Sparrow appears to have a wide distribution across much of temperate North America, it is often locally distributed and even uncommon to rare throughout parts of its range. Many North American populations have experienced long-term declines since the early part of this century, owing mostly to loss and conversion of prairies and agricultural grasslands.