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Swamp Sparrow
Melospiza georgiana

The swamp in Swamp Sparrow pretty well describes this bird's preferred habitat. It breeds in swamps in boreal Canada and the northeastern United States, and is found in brushy habitats that are either wet or near water in the southeast during the winter. It is a secretive bird hiding in dense cover and foraging mostly on the ground. When flushed, it will fly low over the grass tops, rarely more than a few dozen yards, and perch on a low branch or dive back into the vegetation. Swamp Sparrows can be found in Tennessee from late September to early in May, alone or in loose flocks with Song Sparrows.

Description: Swamps Sparrows have rusty wings, a gray chest with blurry streaks, a whitish throat and belly, and a gray face and neck. During the breeding season they have a rusty cap, and during the non-breeding season (August-March) the cap has a gray central stripe.
Length: 5.75"
Wingspan: 7.25"
Weight: 0.6 oz

Similar Species:

  • White-throated Sparrows are much larger and plumper, and the white throat is more extensive, distinct, and bright. They almost always travel in flocks with other white-throats during the winter.
  • Lincoln's Sparrows are very similar, but have a distinct buffy beast-band with fine dark streaks.
  • Song Sparrows are white below with heavy streaking on the breast that forms a dark central spot, and have a longer tail.

Habitat: Found in marshes and in low grassy or brushy fields, often near water.

Diet: Seeds, fruits, and aquatic invertebrates.

Nesting and reproduction: The Swamp Sparrow has never been known to nest in Tennessee.

Status in Tennessee: This common migrant and statewide winter resident is present in the state from late September to early May.

Dynamic map of Swamp Sparrow eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • Swamp Sparrows are known to stick their heads completely underwater to catch aquatic insects.
  • The legs of a Swamp Sparrow are longer than other members if its genus, allowing it to wade in the shallow water of its swampy habitat.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Swamp Sparrows can be found across Tennessee from late September through early May in marshes and low grassy or brushy fields, often near water.

For more information:


Mowbray, T.B. 1997. Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.