Savannah and Lincoln’s Sparrows

by Larry Jordan on April 10, 2011

Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) photos by Larry Jordan

I caught this Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) as it was taking off from its perch back in the spring of 2009.  I don’t see them all that often but the other day, while checking on my nest boxes at Palo Cedro Community Park, a little brown job (commonly known as an LBJ) flew up out of the grass as I was walking along the path (click on photos for full sized image).

When I first saw it I thought it was a Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), after all, they are pretty similar looking birds and the Savannah Sparrow is much more common around here.

I found this beauty a short while later. Notice the yellow eyebrow stripe and the primarily white throat, breast and belly.  The breast streaked with brown.  The Savannah Sparrow also usually has a pale beige median stripe through its crown.

The Lincoln’s Sparrow has a broad, buffy chest band with fine, black streaking continuing down the flanks, contrasting with a white belly.  This distinguishes the Lincoln’s Sparrow from all other adult sparrows.

The photograph above was an individual I spotted later, shaded by the oak tree it was perched in.  The first Lincoln Sparrow I spotted as it flew up out of the grass, perched on a chain link fence close by in the sun.

Those beautiful colors just pop out at you. The gray eyebrow stripe contrasting with the buffy eye ring and the overall gray head really making the chestnut striped crown stand out.

One of the best ways to tell these two birds apart is by their calls.  The Lincoln Sparrow has a much more fluid, wren-like song.
Compared to the Savannah Sparrow.

For more great bird photos, check out Bird Photography Weekly.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Mick April 10, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Great photos clearly showing the distinguishing marks between the two. We have lots of LBJ’s here in Australia – but not sparrows! Only two introduced species.


Kelly April 11, 2011 at 3:17 am

…love those Savannah Sparrows. They are so pretty. I’ve never seen a Lincoln Sparrow…fantastic photos of him. The buff color on his upper chest is so pretty. I want to see one!!


MaineBirder April 11, 2011 at 4:20 am

Great compare and contrast post and photos Larry. We get both species here in Maine. We actually had the Savannah’s nesting on our property last year.


Robin Robinson April 11, 2011 at 5:01 am

Naaaaaaice! I admire anyone who has the starch to put it out there on sparrow IDs. That makes ME very nervous unless it’s painfully obvious what they are, like if they are holding up a sign saying so. That’s what I need. I wouldn’t know a Lincoln’s if it ran me over. Or maybe that was a Lark that hit me……… there a bird called “Buick’s?”


Kristi Hines April 11, 2011 at 8:57 am

I love the yellow stripe above the eyebrow, and the shots in the fence – it’s hard to focus on the subject sometimes without the camera getting caught up on the glare of the fencing.


Hilke Breder April 12, 2011 at 2:33 am

The best description yet, and photographs, of a Lincoln Sparrow, comparing it with the Savannah Sparrow. I tried all last fall to see one, without luck. Hope this year will be different. Thanks also for posting song snippets of each. Great post, Larry!


Nicole April 12, 2011 at 2:47 am

These are gorgeous!
Great work on the photos and the description!


Frank Kratofil April 12, 2011 at 6:23 am

Great work Larry


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