I always thought Savannah Sparrows were named for their grassland habitat, but the birds are named for a specimen found in Savannah, Georgia, by 19th century ornithologist Alexander Wilson. The scientific binomial, Passerculus sandwichensis, comes from their presence in Sandwich Bay in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. According to Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology, they are one the most numerous song bird species in North America. In California, alone, seven subspecies have been identified.
Savannah Sparrows are six inches long with mottled brown backs. They have pale streaked underparts with finely-streaked breasts. A yellow patch, called a “lore,” is between the eye and the bill. Bills and legs are pale pink.
I see Savannah Sparrows in grasslands on coastal bluffs. They breed there as well as in coastal marshes, grassy valleys, and agricultural fields. Usually, I hear the faint, wheezy song and see the sparrow perched on a dry stalk a foot or so off the ground. Savannah Sparrows often run through grass rather than fly. They eat seeds (especially grass seeds), insects, spiders and snails.
Savannah Sparrows nest on the ground in natural or scraped depressions. Nests are woven with grass and lined with fine materials. They are concealed under overhanging grasses or vines. Three to five pale greenish-blue eggs with brown spots are laid. Females perform about 85% of incubation, which lasts for about 12 days. The young leave the nest two weeks after hatching. In some Savannah Sparrow popula-tions, polygamy is common.