Common Name

Scientific Name


Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth
Photo Courtesy of U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The swamp sparrow, Melospiza georgiana, ranges from northern Canada to central Mexico, breeding in Canada and the northeastern United States, and wintering in the southeastern United States, Mexico, and along the Pacific coast (Washington through California). In Utah, it is a rare but regular winter visitor. Its breeding habitats include a wide range of wetland situations, such as marshes, swamps, bogs, and wet meadows. Its nonbreeding habitats are usually are characterized by dense vegetation near water, similar to its breeding habitats, but also include old fields, farm hedgerows, pastures, and even residential shrubbery. Its diet consists mainly of arthropods, especially insects associated with water, as well as seeds and fleshy fruits, with insects being the more important component in summer and seeds and fruits being more important in winter.

The nest is usually constructed in a low bush, in cattails or sedges, or a clump of grass, very often directly over or near water, and usually less than five feet above the ground or water. The three to six eggs are incubated by the female alone for twelve to fifteen days. The young, which are fed by both parents, fledge in another eleven to thirteen days. There are frequently two broods per nesting season, especially in southern parts of the breeding range. This species is occasionally subject to brood parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird, but it is not known whether such cowbird parasitism is successful.

Part of the scientific name of this species is a reference to the state of Georgia (and thus ultimately to King George II of England), where the type specimen was collected in 1790.


  • Mowbray, T. B. 1997. Swamp sparrow. Birds of North America 279: 1–23.

  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook[:] a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon & Schuster, New York. xxx + 785 pp.