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Lincoln's Sparrow
Melospiza lincolnii

One of the more elusive birds of North America, the Lincoln's Sparrow typically breeds in dense shrubby boreal habitats. These hard to access sites, in combination with its secretive nature, means that much of the life history of the Lincoln's Sparrow remains poorly documented. These birds breed across Alaska and Canada, south into the western United States. In winter they migrate to the southern United States, Mexico and northern Central America. Lincoln's Sparrows are passage migrants in Tennessee and a few birds regularly winter in the state.

Description: This grayish-brown sparrow has rusty wings, streaking on the back, fine streaking on the breast and flanks, and a delicately streaked buffy chest-band with no central spot. The male and female look similar.
Length: 5.75"
Wingspan: 7.5"
Weight: 0.6 oz.

Similar Species:

  • Swamp Sparrows have a gray breast without streaking.
  • Song Sparrows are heavily streaked with a central spot on the breast and a longer tail.

Habitat: In Tennessee, Lincoln's are found typically along forest edges, hedgerows, and brushy and weedy fields.

Diet: In winter, they eat small seeds and arthropods when available, and will occasionally visit bird feeders.

Nesting and reproduction: The Lincoln's Sparrow has never been known to nest in Tennessee.

Status in Tennessee: Lincoln's Sparrows are an uncommon migrant and rare winter resident across Tennessee. Spring migrants are in the state from mid-April through mid-May; and in the fall from late September through October. Winter records are evenly distributed across the state.

Dynamic map of Lincoln's Sparrow eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • Although the breeding range extends across northern North America, there is little variation in color and size in Lincoln's Sparrows, and less geographical variation in song than any other species in the genus.
  • John James Audubon named this sparrow after his friend, Thomas Lincoln, of Dennysville, Maine. Lincoln shot the bird on a trip with Audubon to Nova Scotia in 1834, and Audubon named it Lincoln's Pinewood-finch in his honor.

Obsolete English Names: Forbush's sparrow, lincoln's pinewood-finch

Best places to see in Tennessee: Hedgerows and wooded edges and along brushy and weedy fields statewide.

For more information:


Ammon, E. M. 1995. Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii), The Birds of North America, No. 191 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

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.