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Swamp Sparrow, John Gordon
Photo © John Gordon

Photo: John Gordon
Breeding evidence - Swamp Sparrow
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - Swamp Sparrow
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - Swamp Sparrow
Elevation plot

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Swamp Sparrow
Melospiza georgiana
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
365 - 1111 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
20 23 123 66
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 -2.94 (-8.76 - 3.43)Low
Canada1970 - 2012 1.11 (-0.031 - 2.04)Medium

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
0.150.08  0.12  
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
0.150.15 0.04  0.11
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains

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
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce
 0.2 0.09

Characteristics and Range The Swamp Sparrow is a skulker and a lurker in marshy vegetation, more frequently detected by its song or call rising from the cattails. When it shows itself, it is a colourful smallish sparrow with rusty brown and streaked black upperparts, grey breast, face, and neck, and a lovely chestnut cap. It is a bird primarily of eastern and boreal North America, reaching the western extent of its breeding range in eastern British Columbia. The wintering grounds are in the southeastern United States and Mexico, and along the Pacific Coast from the lower Fraser Valley south (Mowbray 1997; Campbell et al. 2001).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat In British Columbia the Swamp Sparrow's breeding distribution is clustered in the Fort Nelson and Peace river lowlands in the northeastern part of the province, and more sparsely scattered in montane valley and plateau regions farther west and south. The Atlas has greatly expanded the confirmed breeding distribution in the province since the publication of The Birds of British Columbia in 2001, particularly west of the Rocky Mountains, suggesting a westward and southward range expansion to the Interior Plateau, the Cassiar Mountains, and the southernmost provincial breeding record in the Columbia Valley.

The Probability of Observation model indicates that the Swamp Sparrow is most likely to be found breeding in swamps and marshes of the Taiga Plains and, to a lesser extent, Boreal Plains ecoprovinces. Atlas point counts show the Taiga Plains remains the main centre of abundance, and suggest that local abundance in the Sub-Boreal Interior is also high. The Swamp Sparrow is most abundant at lower elevations, with more than half of all birds breeding below 500 m, and only about 10% breeding between 1,000 and 1,250 m.

Breeding habitat is characterised by sedge (Carex) dominated lake edges, bogs, wetlands composed of Cattail (Typha latifolia), flooded willow (Salix) swamps, and vegetation surrounding beaver ponds (Mowbray 1997; Campbell et al. 2001).

Conservation and Recommendations Overall trends in Canada outside of British Columbia indicate an increasing population, based on Breeding Bird Survey data collected since 1970 (Environment Canada 2014). The Atlas suggests the population in British Columbia is also expanding. The Swamp Sparrow is susceptible to damage to its wetland habitats, which occurs through drainage, and pollution from agricultural or industrial runoff. This may be a concern for this species in portions of northeastern British Columbia where much liquefied natural gas exploration and development is taking place.

Brian Starzomski

Recommended citation: Starzomski, B. 2015. Swamp 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 Jun 2024]

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