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Swamp Sparrow
Melospiza georgiana
– Family
Authors: Mowbray, Thomas B.

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Adult Swamp Sparrow, Delaware, July
Figure 1. Distribution of the Swamp Sparrow.

The Swamp Sparrow is a common, if elusive and local, resident of the eastern United States and boreal Canada. First described by John Latham in 1790, and named after the state (Georgia) where the specimen he used for his description was collected, this sparrow is more easily detected by its song or call than by sight. Its clear, slow, liquid trill or metallic chink is often the only indication of its presence in the inaccessible habitats it occupies.

Aptly named, the Swamp Sparrow is seldom found far from water during the breeding season. Its preferred breeding habitat includes freshwater cattail (Typha sp.) marshes, brushy meadows, bogs, sedge (Carex sp.) swamps, and brackish marshes. Optimal habitat is found in marshes with open water, dense low vegetation, and available singing perches.

Composed of three morphologically distinct subspecies, this species is monogamous and territorial throughout its range and, under optimal conditions, may occur at high densities. It nests just above the ground or the surface of water and thus is subject to nest mortality from flooding. It is well adapted to foraging in and at the edge of water.

Song development, structure, and ontogeny have been well studied in this species and a solid background established in selective aspects of its territorial behavior, breeding ecology, habitat selection, and adaptation to its aquatic habitat. Because it occurs in relatively inaccessible habitats and is secretive in behavior, however, many key aspects of its natural history remain poorly documented. As wetlands increasingly become the focus of ecological studies, our knowledge of this interesting wetland species is sure to increase.