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Lincoln's Sparrow, Laure Wilson Neish
Photo © Laure Wilson Neish

Photo: Laure Wilson Neish
Breeding evidence - Lincoln's Sparrow
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - Lincoln's Sparrow
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - Lincoln's Sparrow
Elevation plot

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Lincoln's Sparrow
Melospiza lincolnii
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
0 - 1945 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
289 368 1033 935
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 -0.659 (-2.85 - 1.27)Low
Canada1973 - 2012 -0.237 (-1.41 - 0.801)Medium

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
0.230.35 0.130.21 0.17
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
0.230.29 0.37  0.23
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains
0.110.25 0.12  0.17

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
0.14 0.110.18
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range This small sparrow, an attractive but typically hard-to-see bird of the undergrowth, is distinguished by fine black streaks on its buffy upper breast and a conspicuous buffy "moustache". Usually described as elusive or secretive, a skulker, its loud, distinctive song announces its presence during the breeding season. Its breeding range extends from Pacific to Atlantic coasts, roughly coincident with the Boreal Forest and, in the west, continues south along the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada. Its winter range includes a narrow coastal strip extending from southwestern British Columbia to Baja, much of the southwestern United States, and Mexico.

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat The Lincoln's Sparrow breeds throughout most of interior British Columbia, with records concentrated in the northeast (the Peace River and Fort Nelson River lowlands) and the north-central interior (Nechako Plateau). It is sparsely distributed in some coastal areas, but absent as a breeder from most of Vancouver Island and the Georgia Depression Ecoprovince.

Point count data and the Probability of Observation model confirm that this species is most abundant and most easily found in forests of the Boreal and Taiga Plains ecoprovinces. There is a secondary area of abundance in the Central Interior Ecoprovince, and generally high but locally variable abundance and PObs in the Sub-Boreal Interior and Northern Boreal Mountains ecoprovinces. This contrasts somewhat with Campbell et al. (2001) who found the highest summer numbers of Lincoln's Sparrow in northern Haida Gwaii and the Sub-Boreal Interior Ecoprovince. The Lincoln's Sparrow is also widespread in the Southern Interior Mountains and Southern Interior ecoprovinces. Comparison of Atlas results with The Birds of British Columbia suggests that, in general, the overall distribution of this species has remained more or less constant since the late 1990s. Lincoln's Sparrow breeds across a wide elevation range; it is most numerous at the relatively low elevations (250-1,000 m) that include much of the Taiga and Boreal Plains ecoprovinces.

Breeding habitat is predominantly within boreal, montane, and subalpine biogeoclimatic zones. The bird nests in moist and dense shrub thickets, especially willow (Salix) and alder (Alnus) species, Water Birch (Betula occidentalis), Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta), and spruce (Picea) species associated with wetlands, swamps, bogs, riparian flats, and beaver ponds with openings of sedges, moss or grass. It also nests in damp clear-cuts and on avalanche slopes. In the drier parts of the province, such as southern interior, Lincoln's Sparrow is found at elevations well above the valley floors (Cannings et al. 1987).

Conservation and Recommendations Breeding Bird Surveys suggest that Lincoln's Sparrow populations are stable, although reliability is relatively low because the data show considerable annual variation and relatively few survey routes in British Columbia report this species. Disturbance by humans (e.g., recreational activities) near nesting sites may be detrimental (Ammon 1995).

J. M. Ryder

Recommended citation: Ryder, J.M. 2015. Lincoln's Sparrow in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [14 Jul 2024]

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