I always believed that the Savannah sparrow’s (Passerculus sandwichensis) common name referred to its preferred habitat; open areas, usually with short grass. To my surprise, Alexander Wilson (1766 – 1813), a Scottish-American ornithologist, named the bird after a specimen he found in Savannah GA.
A polytypic species, there are 21 subspecies of Savannah sparrows (14 of which are found north of Mexico) divided into 4 groups. This medium sparrow with a short, notched, squarish tail is brown above with black streaks and white below with brown or black stripes on the breast and flanks. The stripes may converge to form a spot. Distinguishing characteristics are a yellow supercilium, a dark malar stripe, a white median crown stripe and no eye ring.
Savannah sparrows are common in North and Central America, except for an area around the Central Plains. They breed north as far as the tundra and winter in the southern states, coastal United States and Central America.
These flighty birds are usually found on the ground or in low vegetation where they forage for larvae, spiders, grasshoppers, millipedes, pillbugs and other insects as well as for seeds.
The Savannah sparrow nest is constructed on the ground or in low shrubs. It is a cup with a coarse grass exterior and an interior of woven fine grasses. If on the ground, the nest is hidden in the prior season’s dead grass or dense vegetation.
This Savannah sparrow was foraging near a pond at Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA) near Pilot Butte.