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Bachman’s Sparrow

These birds are considered to be one of the best singers among the North American sparrows.

Once known as the Pine Woods Sparrow, the Bachman’s Sparrow occupies mature pine forests and regenerating clearcuts in the southeastern U.S. Grassy areas with an open understory are required. Management of forests for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker has also benefitted Bachman’s Sparrows.

Bachman’s Sparrows have three main types of songs known as the Primary Song, Whisper Song, and Excited Song. The Primary Song is heard most often and is quite musical for a sparrow’s song. The Whisper Song is similar but is given very quietly, and can only be heard at close range. The Excited Song, as you might expect, is given when a male Bachman’s Sparrow is agitated.

Description of the Bachman’s Sparrow


The Bachman’s Sparrow has a gray supercilium, gray to buffy breast, a rufous crown, and gray and rufous upperparts. It is a rather large sparrow with a long, rounded tail.  Length 6 in.  Wingspan: 7 in.

bachman's sparrow

Photograph© Greg Lavaty.


Same as male.

Seasonal change in appearance


bachman's sparrow


Juveniles have streaked underparts.


Bachman’s Sparrows inhabit open pine woodlands and oak clearings with bluestem undergrowth.


Bachman’s Sparrows eat insects and seeds.


Bachman’s Sparrows forage on the ground, and rather slowly.

bachman's sparrow


Bachman’s Sparrows are resident across parts of the southeastern U.S., and breed locally in areas north of their year-round range. The population has declined significantly in recent decades.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Backman’s Sparrow

Fun Facts

Bachman’s Sparrows are uncommon and secretive; hearing the song is the best way of locating one.

Forest clearing in the early 20th century provided plentiful habitat, but since then, populations have declined considerably due to habitat loss and fire suppression.


The song consists of a whistle followed by a trill. A high call is also given.

Similar Species

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrows have rufous on wings and are generally darker, smaller bill. Ranges overlap in fall and winter.


The Bachman’s Sparrow’s nest is a cup of grass, weeds, and roots and is lined with finer materials. It is placed on the ground near a shrub or grass clump.

Number: 3-5.
Color: white.

Incubation and fledging.
The young hatch at about 12-14 days and fledge at about 9-10 days, though remaining dependent on the adults for some time.

Bent Life History of the Bachman’s Sparrow



This sparrow was first named Fringilla bachmani by John James Audubon (1883) in the folio edition of his Birds of America. In his Ornithological Biography the following year (1834), he described it under the name Fringilla bachmanii. The earlier spelling has been accepted by the A.O.U. Committee on Nomenclature (A.O.U. CheckList, 1957) as given in the heading of this account.In his description John Audubon (1834) writes: “In honoring so humble an object as this Finch with the name of BACHMAN, my aim is to testify the high regard in which I hold that learned and most estimable individual * * * .” John Bachman discovered this species and obtained the first specimens on the Edisto River, about 30 miles west of Charleston, S.C., at Parker’s Ferry (erroneously cited by some later writers as Harper’s Ferry), but Audubon himself took the specimens, upon which he based his description, within 6 miles of Charleston and later found others in clearings at various points along the main highway north of the city.To anyone familiar with the present-day pine woods of coastal South Carolina, where Bachman’s sparrows may be heard singing in every sizable patch of pines, it is inexplicable that so keen an observer as John Bachman had to go far afield to discover them. Perhaps, as by his own admission he had mistaken the song for that of the towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmu.s), he had consistently overlooked them nearer to home. It is certain, though, that Bachman’s sparrow was not nearly as numerous in the 1830s as it had become by 1905 when this writer first roamed the woods of the Charleston area. It is not difficult to account for the increase in its numbers.In John Audubon’s time virgin pine forest covered coastal South Carolina except immediately around the cities and towns. So close and dense was this growth that there was little or no underbrush and the ground was bare except for a clean mat of pine needles. The only cover or food available for ground-ranging birds was along the infrequent edges. I can well remember in the middle 1890s, before the great lumber companies had completed their desolation of the virgin forests of the South, that the railroads out of Charleston ran for miles at a stretch through unbroken pine forests. But the destruction of the great pineries and the subsequent springing up of a fairly open second growth with a ground cover of grasses and underbrush gave Bachman’s sparrow an almost unlimited territory favorable to its expansion. The increase in its numbers may well have paralleled that of the chimney swift (Uhaetura pelagica) when the building up of the eastern part of the nation provided an abundance of chimney nesting sites to replace the comparatively few hollow trees that had, until then, held the numbers of that species severely in cheek.

There can be no doubt of the almost explosive increase in numbers because, before the close of the nineteenth century, Bachman’s sparrow had become so common throughout the southeast that it had to expand into areas that had never known it before: Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and even southern Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania. Maurice Brooks (1938) gives a detailed account of this “invasion,” and I have drawn upon it freely in writing the following pages. He states that, from a first appearance in Ohio and West Virginia in the last few years of the nineteenth and the first few years of the twentieth century, the species reached its maximum abundance in those states between 1915 and 1922. After 1922 a distinct recession in numbers over much of the region was recorded, but he advances no explanation to account for it.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the bird’s range in West Virginia is in the altitudes it attained, which contrast sharply with the low elevations in its ancestral range in the southeast. Maurice Brooks (1938) writes that in Upehur County * * * the species was positively common at elevations of 1700 feet. In Webster County a number of individuals were observed at altitudes around 2500 feet.* * * The altitudinal record for the State, so far as I am aware, was made near Pickens, Randolph County. Here, on Turkeybone Mountain, at elevations around 3000 feet, the birds were found in 1920, and perhaps in other years. The territory thereabout lies within the “Spruce Belt,” the natural growth of Red Spruce (Picea rubens) which followed the higher Allegheny summits. At the time the Bachman’s Sparrows were found, the area had, of course, been cleared, but Winter Wrens, Veerys, Magnolia and Cairns’s Warhlers, Juncos, and Red-. breasted Nuthatches all nested nearby.

In a later article, Maurice Brooks (1952b) repeats his theory that the earlier movement into the region came from Kentucky, crossed the Ohio River into unglaciated Ohio, spread eastward along the river into West Virginia and thence northward down the Monongahela Valley into southwestern Pennsylvania “until they reached the first high Allegheny ridges. Here their invasion was checked * * “‘. In more recent years Bachman’s Pine Woods Sparrows have seemingly made another invasion and extended their range northward through the Shenandoah Valley to the east of the Alleghenies. They are now locally common in portions of northwestern Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.”

In the breeding season in the southeast, I have found Bachman’s sparrow only in areas of pine. The preferred habitat seems to be rather open pine woods with an understory of various species of scrub oaks and a ground cover of grasses and scattered low bushes. Here its nearest neighbors are red-cockaded woodpeckers, wood pewees, brown-headed nuthatches, pine warblers, and summer tanagers. Herbert L. Stoddard (iii Burleigh, 1958) states that, in extreme southern Georgia in the area of intergradation between this and the Florida race, Bachman’s sparrow “is a highly adaptable species, however, and finds life more attractive in present day tung-oil [Aleurites Jordi] groves or around borders of cultivated fields.”

How different is the habitat of Bachman’s sparrow near the northern edge of its more recently occupied range. Maurice Brooks (1938) cites data supplied to him by Lawrence E. Hicks on nesting habitat in Ohio, and he finds similar conditions prevailing in West Virginia. Both observers state that the typical habitat is an abandoned field, usually fallow for 4 years or more, which is well grown up with goldenrods and asters, various grasses, and the miscellaneous composites and weeds typical of dry, eroded slopes. The presence or absence of pine seedlings seems to have no bearing on the desirability of the site. The cutting of the forest growth and soil erosion are the factors favoring the selection of a nesting site. Also, this species is practically confined to hill country, almost never appearing in the valleys or even on the lower slopes of the hills. A typical territory is near the top of a slope where eroded gullies have been healed and are covered with shrubs, particularly blackberry bushes.

Spring: The coming of spring is heralded in the Deep South, even as early as the last week of February, by the addition of the song of Bachman’s sparrow to the late winter chorus of Carolina wren, mockingbird, brown thrasher, pine warbler and cardinal. Even severe, temperatures are no deterrent for, as Arthur T. Wayne (1910) writes from Mt. Pleasant, S.C., under date Feb. 26, 1901: “Heard a Bachman’s Finch sing beautifully at night. He sang as sweetly as if it were May, although the night was very cold and the ground partly covered with snow and ice.” Although there must be many more Bachman’s sparrows in the South in winter than in summer, only the most persistent searcher is aware of their presence prior to the beginning of the song period.

It is probably at this time that the northern breeding birds commence their withdrawal from winter quarters, but the movement is so unobtrusive that observers in the South are not aware of it. But the arrival of singing birds in territory unoccupied in winter is readily observed and recorded. Maurice Brooks (1938) cites the earliest arrival date as March 27 in Upshur County, W. Va., with a median date of April 11; an early arrival date of April 10 in Ohio, with a median date of April 22; and an early date of April 15 near Waynesburg, Pa.

Courtship and Nesting: I can find nothing in the literature on the courtship of this race of the Bachman’s sparrow, and very little on either of the other two races. In my own field work, I have never seen anything in the behavior of this species that could be construed as courtship activity. Actually, this is one of the most elusive of the sparrows and all its actions except the attention-compelling song are shrouded in secrecy.

On the other hand, the subject of nesting bulks large in the literature and many excellent descriptions of nests are available. However, and unfortunately, some of the widely accepted statements about nest construction are very misleading. Charles E. Bendire (1888) makes the positive statement that all nests of A. a. ba~hmami are domed and cylindrical, while the nests of the Florida race (A. a. aestivali~) are ‘snot arched over * * * in any way, perfectly round, with the sides and rims everywhere of equal height * * *ï” But writers throughout the range of Bachman’s sparrow describe both open nests and domed nests and sometimes an open nest with one edge noticeably higher than the other. The open nests described far outnumber those of the domed type. In my own experience, of the very few nests that I have found some were open and some domed, and I cannot now recall a preponderance of either type. The one point on ~vhich all writers agree is that the nest is invariably built on the ground, usually concealed under a low bush or against a tussock of grass.

Nests are constructed of weed stems and various grasses, which are coarse in the body and fine in the lining. Several observers mention having found a few horse hairs in the nest lining, one mentions cattle hair, and one a few strands of corn silk, but in most nests the lining is of fine grasses only.

The actual process of nest building has been witnessed by very few observers. Fred M. Jones (1940), writing from southwestern Virginia, describes a domed nest that he saw under construction in his yard only 50 feet from his dwelling. Incidentally, he states that this was the only domed nest of a dozen or more that he had found in the neigh borhood, and even this “was not in the same class as Ovenbirds’ nests.” his attention was first attracted by seeing a Bachman’s sparrow with a mouthfui of grass fly to a spot under a walnut tree. A search of the place revealed only a typical field sparrow nest, located some 6 inches off the ground. Later, after having seen the Bachman’s sparrow make a number of trips to the same spot, he succeeded in finding her nest. It was on the ground under a small limb that had fallen from the tree and was situated only 12 inches from the field sparrow’s nest.

The foregoing account well illustrates the difficulty of finding a nest of this species, even though this one had been almost “pin-pointed” by the building bird. Most writers on the subject agree that the nest of the Bachman ‘s sparrow is in the same category (so far as difficulty of detection is concerned) as the nests of grasshopper and Savannah sparrows. Neither John J. Audubon nor John Bachman ever succeeded in finding a nest.

William G. Fargo (1934) quotes Walter Hoxie in a statement that is, in the experience of all other observers, at least open to question: “In the summer he [the Bachman’s sparrowi and the Pine-woods have the same habit of singing .to the brooding mate from some elevated perch and looking down at her where she is on the nest. So, to the initiated it is a dead ‘give away’ of the situation of their home on the ground among the dense cover which otherwise it is almost impossible to locate.” Clearly, I am not one of the initiated or else am particularly inept at nest finding, for I have found fewer than a dozen nests in more than 50 years, and those few purely by chance, never as a result of crawling around on the ground below habitual singing perches. Maurice Brooks (1938) states that “One male whose nest was discovered had a favorite singing perch * * * about fifty yards from the nest. The birds were not crowded in their territory, and we found some points from which habitual singing was carried on at distances of seventy-five to one hundred yards from the nest.”

As would be expected of a species whose nesting range spans a 100 latitude, dates of nesting at or near the upper and lower extremes of the range differ materially. A. H. Howell (1924) cites April 30 and July 14 as inclusive dates on which full sets of eggs were found in southern Alabama. A. Sprunt and E. B. Chamberlain (1949) ïstate that the average date of first nests in the Charleston, S.C., area is from April 28 to May 4 but that, in forward seasons, nests have been found early in April. They also state that three broods are reared in a season, wit.h the third brood hatching in August. Maurice Brooks (1938) cites the extreme dates at French Creek, W. Va., as May 27 and July 2, and concludes that two broods may be reared in a season. With only five nests to my credit in the Pensacola, Fla., area, my inclusive dates are of but little significance; but it seems probable that, from the greatly protracted length of the song period which goes well into August, at least two broods are reared.

Several observers agree that the female alone does all the nest building and all the incubation of the eggs, but only one writer goes into any detail. B. J. Blincoe (1921) of Bardstown, Ky., states that: “The male generally accompanied the female as she carried the nesting material, and, frequently, he sang while she searched over the ground for the piece of dead grass suited to her needs.”

The only nest measurements that I can find in the literature are given by Charles E. Bendire (1888), ~vhen describing a series of six nests taken by William C. Avery near Greensboro, Ala. The measurements are presumably the average of the six nests, for he states that “These measurements vary somewhat in different specimens. All six nests were distinctly roofed over or domed * * ~. They are cylindrical in shape, about seven or eight inches in height, and four and one half inches wide. The inner cavity is from three to four inches in length, about two inches wide, and one and three quarters inches high. The rear wall of the nest is about one and three quarters inches thick, the sides about an inch, and the roof a little over half an inch in thickness. * * * the roof projects somewhat over the entrance in all cases. * * * the entrance is invariably canted upwards, at an angle of about 15~ * * *~ The entrance to the majority of the nests found faced the west.”

Eggs: Bachman’s sparrow (A. aestivalis) lays from three to five eggs. They are ovate, slightly glossy, white and unspotted. The measurements of 71 eggs average 19.3 by 15.3 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure ~0.9 by 16.8, 17.8 by 15.2 and 18.0 by 1.4.0 millimeters.

For A. a. bachmani the measurements of 50 eggs average 19.4 by 15.3 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure p20.9 by 16.8, and 18.0 by 14.0 millimeters.

Young: Bachman’s sparrow is so secretive in all its actions, except singing, that little can be found in the literature on the various phases of nesting and the rearing of the young. Even the exact period of incubation of the present race is not stated by any writer, though I have found mention of this point for one of the other two races. Several observers agree that both parents attend to the feeding of the young.

Incubating or brooding birds are particularly difficult to see actually on the nest. In the few cases in my experience, the adult bird ran from the nest while I was still several feet away, no matter how cautiously I approached. In only one instance did I see the adult fly directly from the nest. Maurice Brooks (1938) writes: “Brooding birds were found to sit very close, allowing themselves to be approached within a few feet before flushing. When flushed, the bird would frequently drag its wing, flutter along the ground, and, in general, go through a performance that we have come to think of as ‘injury-feigning’ * * * much like the performance of a Killdeer * * * leaving her nest.” Albert F. Ganier (1921) cites a similar experience near Nashville, Tenn., as follows: “I flushed a Bachman’s sparrow which feigned crippledness as it fluttered off through the grass. A search revealed two young birds just learning to fly and which were captured. The one parent bird present remained near and most persistently endeavored to lure me away by fluttering through the grass * * “‘.” Charles E. Bendire (1888) quotes William C. Avery, of Greensboro, Ala., stating that the flushed bird invariably runs (not flies) away from the nest, and that it imitates the movements of a snake, even giving at this time a distinct hissing note.

The actions of adult birds, even when not disturbed by intrusion, are secretive in the extreme. Maurice Brooks (1938) writes: “Parent birds do not fly directly to the nest, but * * * drop inconspicuously into the grass and weeds from low perches at some distance from the nest, making their approach in such a manner that it is very difficult to follow them. In one case where we found a nest by watching the birds the habitual approach was from an old rail fence about thirty feet from the nest. * * * Both parents were carrying insects to the young birds, and they were shy and secretive. When the nest was located (it contained four young birds) both parents nervously flew from low perches in weeds and grass to the ground, remaining within sight for very brief intervals.”

William C. Avery (in Bendire, 1888) had an interesting experience in flushing four juvenile birds, presumably from the nest. They flew like a miniature covey of bobwhites, rising with an audible whir of wings. An additional instance of the actions of fledglings is given in the account of one of the other two races of this species.

Plumages: Juvenal plumage: Forehead and crown feathers black, edged (in varying amounts) with buffy brown or reddish brown; paUern irregular streaking. Youngest specimen with least light feather edging (nearly uniform black crown). Nape similar but more light edging. Back similar, feathers broader. Rump with black much reduced, light color predominating. Upper tail coverts like back. Rectrices blackish with faint suggestion of “herring-bone” pattern. Remiges blackfish, primaries edged with buffy, tertials with rich cinnamon. Tertials margined with cinnamon and buff. Coverts black, lessers edged with rich cinnamon, medians and greaters narrowly edged with buff or cinnamon buff. Wing bar pattern not prominent. Lores buffy. No distinctive face pattern. Auriculars tinged with buff, spotted with black. Under parts whitish or cream, tinged with buff on flanks and crissum. Chin finely spotted with black; throat, breast, sides, and flanks streaked and spotted with black (most heavily on breast). Leg feathers black and cream.

Herbert L. Stoddard (in Burleigh, 1958) writes from Grady County, in extreme southern Georgia, in an area where A. a. bachmani intergrades with A. a. aestivalis: “This species seems to be forever in moult, bob-tailed ragged adults and young being the rule throughout the summer and fall months, while they seem to be replacing lost feathers much of the time during the winter months.”

Food: A. H. Howell (1924) sums up the food of Bachman’s sparrow in the southern part of its range as follows: “The food of this sparrow, as indicated by examination of 10 stomachs from Alabama, consisted of 58 percent animal matter, and 42 percent vegetable. The animal food includes leaf-beetles, 9.3 percent; other beetles, including weevils and longicorns, 23.1 percent. Bugs constituted 12 percent and the other food items were grasshoppers and crickets (5.7 percent) with some snails, spiders, and millipeds. The vegetable food consisted principally of grass seed and the seeds of sedges; wood sorrel and Indian strawberry made up the remainder.”

I can find in the literature no other results of stomach examinations. Sight observations, including my own, add nothing of significance to Howell’s list quoted above. The few observers who mention food were probably unable to get near enough to these secretive little sparrows to identify any item but an occasional large insect: a grasshopper or a cricket.

We may reasonably expect the food habits of Bachman’s sparrow in the nQrthern parts of its range not to differ materially from those of the southern birds in the proportions of animal and vegetable food taken, though an actual analysis would doubtless show variations in the species’ consumption.

Behavior: Most observers who have had experience with Bachman s sparrow will agree, I believe, that were it not for the unmistakable ringing song, this secretive little bird could be overlooked in any given territory for a long time and its presence never suspected. That is actually the case in winter in the South when the birds are not in song. When it comes to elusiveness, I class Bachman’s sparrow with the notoriously secretive Henslow’s and LeConte’s.

Observers in the northern parts of the breeding range of this species designate its singing perches as fences and tall weeds and seldom mention a higher perch. In the pineries of the South, however, the usual singing perch is in a tree, and I do not now recall ever having noted any other. The favorite perch is within 20 feet of the ground on the stub of a broken branch of a pine tree or on one of the dead twigs one often sees halfway up the trunk of a mature long-leaf pine. The bird seldom goes as high as the crown branches.

Early morning and late afternoon seem to be the preferred singing periods, but even the heat of a summer day is no deterrent to this indefatigable singer as I have often heard his song ringing out through the shimmering noontime heat in the southern pineries.

Singing per~ists until late in the summer in all parts of the range. Maurice Brooks (1938) mentions having heard the song a few times in August in West Virginia. In the Pensacola, Fla., area, I have heard it as late as the last week of August. Alexander Sprunt and E. Burnham Chamberlain (1949) note that the song can sometimes be heard in coastal South Carolina in early September. They also record sporadic singing “late in December.”

Maurice Brooks (1938) records the unusual, perhaps unique, experience of having had Bachman’s sparrows come to a feeding shelf on his farm in Upshur County, W. Va., where they learned to relish “exotic” foods that they certainly never found in nature. He writes: Much to our surprise, a pair of the birds, evidently nesting in a nearby brushy field, frequenting one of our window feeding shelves. No similar circumstance had come to our attention, and we tried a variety of foods with the birds. They took raisins freely, but, like so many birds which we have fed, seemed to prefer the kernels of black walnuts to any other food which we could offer them. They also took coarse corn meal, cornbread, particles of cracked corn in ordinary poultry feed, and “cracklings” left from the “trying-out” of lard.

Both birds fed at the small shelf at the same time, and once they had come, manifested little fear. They would sometimes remain for periods of five minutes or more, feeding both on the low shelf and on the ground where particles of food had been scattered. * * * We did not see them at the shelf very early in the morning or late in the evening, the times when singing was most in evidence.

Evidently this sparrow gives off an emanation or scent that the keen senses of hunting dogs can detect. Many a hunter has had occasion to swear at his dog for having come to a “false point” at a “d: d ground sparrow.” However, this is not a peculiarity of the Bacliman’s sparrow, for I have known dogs to point Henslow’s and grasshopper sparrows and perhaps other ground sparrows that occur in the winter habitat of the bobwhite.

Voice: Of all the observed activities of the Bachman’s sparrow, the song easily ranks first. Writers compare its sweetness and ethereal quality to the famous song of the Hermit thrush (Hylocichkz guttaia) and some even claim superiority for the sparrow.

First, technical description follows. Aretas A. Saunders (1951) writes that the song “consists of a series of phrases, sung one after another in varied order, with pauses between them, so that the whole peiformance may be considered one long-continued song.

“Each phrase consists of a long, sweet note, followed by a trill or series of rapid notes on a difTerent pitch. The pitch intervals between the long notes and the trills are quite perfect, being minor or major thirds, fourths, fifths, or even octaves.

“Each individual sings from five to twelve different phrases, averaging about seven. The long note introducing each phrase and the change in pitch from one phrase to another suggest the singing of the Hermit Thrush.”

R. M. Strong (1918) records that “the duration of the song, which was very variable, was about two or three seconds. Usually, the song started with a single long note followed by a group of short notes in a tempo so fast that we could not be sure of our count. So far as we could determine, the bird had seven to twelve notes in this group, usually about ten. As a rule, they were of essentially uniform pitch, but not of the same pitch as the long opening note. The pitch was sometimes lower than that of the first note and sometimes higher. A few performances had two or three opening notes not so long as the usual single one. On one occasion, the song was repeated or rather one song followed another with no interruption or pause, both being a little shorter than usual.”

Many writers have set down transliterations of the song (an example is theeeeee-thut, lut, lut, lut), but all these are meaningless to one who has never heard it and grossly inadequate to anyone familiar with its ethereal quality. Some writers have even become sentimental in their attempts to describe this quality, but I have yet to find a description that does it justice. One must actually hear the song in all its purity and sweetness before he can appreciate or even understand the high place that the singer has attained among our native birds. Attendant circumstances have much to do with the charm of this song. My memory goes back to a warm spring morning in the pine woods, the fragrance of the pine and a faint tang of wood smoke in the air: it is in such a setting that the mellow notes of Bachman’s sparrow leave an unforgettable impression on the hearer.

In addition to the usual song, Maurice Brooks (1938) describes a variation from West Virginia that I have never been fortunate enough to hear: “The louder songs are not uncommonly interspersed with ‘whisper songs,’ so low that they are inaudible to a person at a little distance. Frequently there are broken twitterings between the more ordered songs as well.” He also quotes A. B. Brooks, who, after following a singing bird through a weedy field, states that: “When I approached a little nearer he discovered me and changed his song into a fine, mixed-up combination of slurs, whistles, and trills.”

Robert M. Mengel (1951) describes an evening flight song that he heard near Bowling Green, Ky., which seems to have been missed by observers in general: “Shortly after sundown I saw a small fringillid in flight about 150 feet above the ground. It was ascending in an erratic, fluttering manner, signing a song which was completely unfamiliar to me. The song was bubbling and exuberant and, though distinctive, was difficult to describe. According to my notes, it reminded me of a much speeded-up Indigo Bunting (Passerina eyanea) song of wren-like quality.” On another occasion, when he beard the same song again, he succeeded in collecting the singer, which proved to be a Bachman’s sparrow.

A peculiar sound, which I cannot find mentioned anywhere in the literature, is a prolonged, monotone trill that I have heard uttered only after sunset on winter afternoons. It seems to be some kind of roosting assembly note. It is much longer than the long opening note of the song and is pitched much higher. I have called it a trill rather than a single, sustained note, but if it is a trill it is so exceedingly fine and rapid that I cannot be sure of my term for it. Often at the close of a Christmas bird count, and after I had failed to flush a single Bachman’s sparrow in its usual daytime haunts, I have gone to a known roosting spot on the edge of the pine woods and, sitting quietly, have heard this note come from several widely scattered locations in the underbrush.

Aside from its song, this species has few other sounds. As already mentioned in the section Young, a bird flushed from the nest has been known to utter a note, which C. TI. Bendire (1888) characterizes as “chay, chay,” a sound more like the hissing of a snake than the scolding of a bird.” A sharp, rather prolonged pseet of alarm orsemonstrance is sometimes given by a parent bird when a nest with young is disturbed. The common call note of the species is a typical sparrowlike chip, which is not distinctive in any way.

Field marks: This is one of the most nondescript of birds. Even when seen to good advantage, it has no prominent or conspicuous mark that makes for easy identification. In general it is just a plain, rather reddish sparrow with an unstreaked, slightly huffy breast. The grayish superciliary line is not well marked. The unstreaked crown and much longer tail distinguish it from the grasshopper sparrow, another species with a plain breast sometimes found in the same habitat. The dark bill, noticeably larger than that of the smallbilled chipping and field sparrows, gives the whole head a fairly distinctive outline that I have found at times to be a good field mark. Perhaps the bird is best identified by its habitat: the only reddishbacked sparrow of overgrown fields and pine woods.

The juvenal plumage has a noticeable eye ring and the breast and sides streaked with dark gray.

Enemies: H. S. Peters (1936) lists only two ectoparasites on the Bachman’s sparrow: a mite (Analgopsis sp.) taken from birds collected in Ohio, and a tick (Haemaphysalis leporis-palustris) from some birds in Georgia.

Herbert Friedmann (1943) cites only three instances of finding eggs of the brown-headed cowbird in the nests of this species. Several writers consider that this comparative immunity is because domed nests are difficult for the cowbirds to find, but this point is not well taken because, as has been stated earlier in this account, the great majority of the nests within the breeding range of the cowbird are not domed. It seems more likely that this immunity is achieved by the sparrows in their expert concealment of all nests, whether domed or not, and that the cowbird has as much difficulty in finding nests as the ornithologist.

Undoubtedly, Bachman’s sparrow, in common with all other small ground-nesting birds, is at the mercy of a number of predators: stray dogs and semiferal cats, in addition to the native mammals. Several observers specifically name the “blacksnake” (though whether it is Elaphe sp. or Coluber sp. is not indicated) as a known destroyer of nests, and undoubtedly other species of snakes are equally guilty. Fred M. Jones (1940) states that, in southwestern Virginia, of “a dozen or more” nests that he had found, “the crows accounted for all of them” except the two in his yard.

Such a high percentage of nest failure must be exceptional, however, because Lawrence E. Hicks (in. Brooks, 1938), when accounting for the 26 nests he had under observation in Ohio, states that “the percentage of success is distinctly higher than that which Mrs. Nice has found for the Song Sparrow, and which I have found for the Field Sparrow and the Vesper Sparrow,” but he does not give an actual percentage figure.

Disease-carrying potentialities.: In a letter from the Communicable Disease Center, Atlanta, Ga., to Oscar M. Root, of North Andover, Mass., in reply to his request for “information regarding the public health importance of * * * Fringillids,” the ‘writer states that “to our knowledge, encephalitis is the only human disease in which these birds are incriminated. * * * the following Fringillids have been found to carry antibodies to one or more of the American arthropodborne encephalitides.” In the list of 12 species cited, the pine-woods (r=Bachman’s) sparrow is included as a carrier of antibodies of western equine encephalitis, but this species does not appear again in a further list of three sparrows in which virus has been actually isolated.

Fall: Bachman’s sparrow begins to withdraw from the northern part of its range before the end of August. Maurice Brooks (1938) quotes Lawrence E. Hicks in citing September 2 as the latest date on which he has ever found this species in southern Ohio. In West Virginia, Brooks gives September 1 as the latest date in his field notes.

Thomas D. Burleigh (1958), writing of the northern part of Georgia, states that “it doubtless lingers * * * through September and possibly into October * * * but there are very few fall records later than the end of August.”

Winter: In winter, Bachman’s sparrow occupies the territory south and east of a line drawn from extreme southeastern North Carolina, about along the fall line across South Carolina and Georgia, though middle Alabama, thence to the coast of Mississippi. In Florida, it invades the eastern part of the state and penetrates almost halfway down the peninsula, well into the range of the Florida race.

At this season it spreads out from its summer breeding habitat in the pineries into open broomsedge fields and areas of scrub oak. In the Pensacola, Fla., area, I have found it along the wet upland edges of creek and river swamps where I had never seen it in summer. It comes down, too, almost to the salt water shores of the coastal woods into areas which, although apparently optimum for nesting, were not occupied in summer. The spot that I mentioned in the section Voice, where I could always hear the evening trills of roosting birds, is within 100 yards of a salt water beach. Herbert L. Stoddard (in. Burleigh, 1958) says that it is often found “even in the fence corners with other sparrows” where it “always seems to be out of character.”

A source of continuai amazement to us as observers in the Deep South is that, although there must be many more Bachman’s sparrows present in winter than in summer, now that they are silent it is seldom that any can be found except by purposeful search, and few are seen even then.

Range: Ohio, southwestern Pennsylvania, and Maryland south to southern Mississippi and central Florida.

Breeding Range: The eastern Bachman’s sparrow breeds from central northern Kentucky (Jefferson County), southwestern and north central Ohio (Montgomery and Wayne counties), southwestern Pennsylvania (Beaver, Fairchance), eastern West Virginia (Berkeley County), western and central Maryland (Green Ridge Mountain, Beltsville) south to southern Mississippi (Gulfport), southern AlalBama (Mobile, Dothan), southern Georgia (Newton, Tifton), and south central South Carolina (Aiken, Charleston).

Winter range: Winters from central Alabama (Greensboro, Coosada), northern Georgia (Athens), South Carolina (Camden), and central North Carolina (New Bern) south to southern Mississippi (Gulfport) and central Florida (St. Petersburg, Welaka); casually eastern Maryland (Princess Anne).

Casual records: Casual in Michigan (Monroe and Wayne counties), southern Ontario (Point Pelee, Long Point), New York (Mendon Ponds Park), and New Jersey (Fort Lee, Atsion).

Migration: The data deal with the species as a whole. Early dates of spring arrival are: Florida: Leon County, March 1. Alabama: Huntsville, March 7. Georgia: Atlanta, February 28; Macon, February 29. Virginia: Richmond, April 3. District of Columbia: April 11. Maryland: Kensington, April 29. Pennsylvania: Waynesburg, April 15; Beaver, April 29. New Jersey: Fort Lee, May 9. Arkansas: Delight, April 5. Tennessee: Nashville, March 17; Knox County, March 29. Kentucky: Bardstown, March 18. Missouri: St. Louis, April 14 (median of 5 years, May 3). Illinois: Urbana, March 19 (median of 13 years, April 6). Indiana: Bicknell, March 19; Wayne County, April 26 (median of 5 years, May 1). Ohio: central Ohio, April 10 (average, April 24). Michigan: North Cape, April 29. Ontario: Point Pelee, April 16.

Late dates of spring departure are: Florida: Leon County, April 5. Maryland: Cabin John, May 9. Mississippi: Gulfport, April 25. Tennessee-Nashville, April 25 (median of 24 years, April 6).

Early dates of fall arrival are: Mississippi: Deer Island, October 21. Georgia: Grady County, September 27. Florida: Leon County, September 24.

Late dates of fall departure are: Ohio: central Ohio, September 17 (average, August 27). Indiana: Bicknell, August 26. Illinois: La Grange, August 13. Kentucky: Eubank, September 26. Tennessee: Nashville, October 17; Knox County, September 27. Maryland: Prince Georges County, August 15. Virginia: Richmond, September 3. Florida: Leon County, October 30.

Egg dates: (Aimophila aestivalis) Alabama: 8 records, April 13 to June 28. Arkansas: 12 records, April 26 to July 4. Florida: 19 records, April 14 to July 28; 11 records, April 22 to May 10. Georgia: 12 records, April 26 to June 19. Illinois: 2 records, May 31 and June 1.

(A. a. baehmani): Alabama: 18 records, April 30 to July 14; 9 records, May 7 to June 10. Florida: 5 records, April 20 to July 27. Georgia: 8 records, May 9 to June 25.

Kentucky: 4 records, May 2 to June 18.

North Carolina: 4 records, May 2 to June 15.

Tennessee: 6 records, May 11 to July 20.


This southern race of the Bacliman’s sparrow, formerly known as the pine-woods sparrow, is slightly larger and darker, less rufescent above and more grayish (less bufiy) below than A. a. bachmant.

It occupies a range from the extreme southern corner of South Carolina, southward through coastal Georgia and westward along the southern edge of that state at least to Grady County, and all of the Florida peninsula down to Lake Okeechobee and Immokalee.

In its habits, haunts, food, nesting, and behavior, it so closely resembles its near relative to the north that, in general, the account of that race applies equally well to this. However, a few notes of interest in the literature should be cited.

Robert F. Mason, Jr., of Orange County, Fla., in a letter to Mr. Bent describes a nest he found in the process of construction Apr. 26, 1953: “The nest was complete and the first egg deposited April 30, prior to 8:30 a.m. Eggs were laid on succeeding days, all prior to 8:30 a.m., until the fourth and last egg was deposited on May 3.” The nest was “beneath and partially roofed over by a dump of grass. It was almost perfectly round and its inside diameter was 2% inches by 2 inches inside depth. In addition to the tentlike covering of grass, it was definitely domed in its construction by the birds themselves. An opening in the grass clump provided entrance, but so well concealed was the nest that had I not seen the bird go to it I would not have found it.” The finding of a domed nest of the Florida race is directly at variance with a statement of C. E. Bendire’s (1888), cited in the section Nesting in the account of A. a. bachmani, that the nests of A. a. aestivalis are “not arched over in any way, perfectly round, with the sides everywhere of equal height.”

Much of the ground cover in the pine woods of Florida consists of saw palmetto (Serenoa serrulata). Many nests of this sparrow are located beneath low-growing palmetto fronds that lie in a plane parallel to the ground. They are thus not only well protected, but are also completely concealed and are very difficult to find.

Samuel A. Grimes (1931), of Jacksonville, Fla., cites an example of a remarkably short interval between successive nestings: “On May 11 a nest with three small young was noted, on the ground under a palmetto frond. These young were successfully reared, and on May 23 this pair was found making a new nest a hundred feet from the first. Seven days later this second nest held five eggs.”

The measurements of 21 eggs average 19.2 by 15.4 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 20.5 by 15.7, 20.3 by 15.8, 17.8 by 15.2, and 17.9 by 14.8 millimeters.

A note on the food of this race is given by A. H. Howell (1932): “Examination of the stomachs of 8 specimens of this species taken in Florida showed the bird’s food to consist mainly of insects and spiders, with smaller proportions of seeds of grasses and other plants. The insects most frequently taken were grasshoppers and crickets and their allies, these composing the major portion of the food in four of the stomachs and being present in all but one. Other insects eaten were beetles, moths, leaf hoppers, caterpillars and Hymenoptera. Seeds taken included blueberry seeds, pine seeds, and seeds of various grasses and sedges.”

A unique instance of the extremes to which this secretive sparrow will go to escape detection is given by James A. Pittman, Jr. (1960). In the pine woods near Orlando, Fla., a party of observers saw a sparrow disappear into a small isolated clump of saw palmetto. After an unsuccessful attempt to flush the bird again, it was discovered that the palmetto clump concealed the entrance to a burrow of the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), and one member of the party glimpsed a small bird at the limit of visibility down the burrow. By opening the burrow, the bird was finally caught at a point almost 4 feet back from the entrance and 2 feet below the surface of the ground. It was identified as a Bachman’s (pine-woods) sparrow.

Aretas A. Saunders (1951) has this comment on the song: “Farther south, chiefly in Florida, the bird is sub-specifically distinct, and known as the Pine-woods Sparrow. Its song is essentially the same [as A. a. bachmanij, but it is my impression that the song there is not quite so rich and fine in quality as that of the more northern form.”

H. S. Peters (1936) lists a louse (Ricinus sp.) as an ectoparasite found on some specimens of this sparrow taken in Florida.

In winter, this race withdraws from the northern part of its breeding range and is then found from extreme southern Georgia through almost the whole of the Florida peninsula.

Range: South Carolina to Florida.

Breeding Range: The pine-woods Bachman’s sparrow breeds on the coastal plain of southern South Carolina (Allendale, Jasper, and Beaufort counties), southeastern Georgia (Savannah, Folkston), and peninsular Florida (south to Fort Pierce and Immokalee).

Winter range: Winters chiefly in peninsular Florida; casually north to Grady County, Georgia.


Robert Ridgway (1879) described the oak-woods sparrow (Peucaea illinoensis) from specimens he collected at Mount Carmel, Ill, lie considered it a distinct species because “a very wide area exists between the habitat of P. aestivali.s and P. illinoensis in which no Peucaea is known to exist * * s’.” He knew that his new sparrow ranged southward into central Texas, but certainly he did not know that its winter range extended as far east as southern Mississippi, where it met that of A. a. bashmani. Nor could he foresee, of course, the “invasion” of Bachman’s sparrow 20 years later into southern Ohio, where it occupies territory almost contiguous to that of ihimoensi-s.

It was not until may years later that the A.O.U. Committee on Nomenclature (1944) accepted Ridgway’s illinoen.sis as a race of A. aestivalis, giving it the name that appears at the head of this account.

Robert Ridgway, in his description, states of this race that “the upper parts are much paler and more ‘sandy’ in hue, and the black mesial streaks which in aestivalis mark all the feathers (except those of the nape and wings) are either entirely wanting or confined to th interseapular region; the breast and sides are very distinctly ocbraceous-buff, these parts in aestivalis being buffy grayish. The proportions are much the same in the two species, but ihinoertsi.s has a longer wing and thicker bill.” Apparently, then, ihinoensie is the most rufescent of the three races of A. aestivahi.s.

In its habits, haunts, nesting, food, and behavior, this race so closely resembles its near relative to the eastward that, in general, the account of that race applies equally well to this. A few notes of interest in the literature, however, may be included here.

The habitat of this race in south central Indiana, near the northern limit of its breeding range, is similar to that favored by A. a. bee hmarci in Ohio. Russell E. Muniford writes in a letter to Mr. Bent: “In these haunts, pine-woods [=ihinoensi.s] sparrows are nesting associates of the blue-winged and prairie warblers. At times, I have been able to call up all three species by squeaking on the back of my hand * * ‘S Evidently, these three find their optimum nesting requirements in the many similar areas present. On many of the old fields, broom grass, locally called broomsedge, is present and forms a considerable portion of the ground cover. Other ground cover is likely to be dewberry, cinquefoil, aster, and similar plants.”

Near the southern limit of the range, the preference for pineland is again similar to that of A. a. bachmani in the same latitude. Brooke Meanley (1959) writes from central Lomsiana: Natural vegetation is predominantly Longleaf Pine with an interspersion of small stands of hardwoods along drainage systems. * * *

Forest management studies in progress in this area indicate that manipulation of the habitat greatly favors Bachman’s [~ iltinoensis] Sparrow. The cycle of clear or partial cutting followed by direct seeding or planting provides, apparently, optimum habitat. A scattering of seed pine trees, clumps of shrubs and brush piles are left from these operations; these provide singing perches, escape cover and appropriate sites for nesting. The opening of the forest and burning of the ground cover results in an abundance and variety of foods, especially grasses and legumes * * *~ Selective cutting or thinning of overcrowded stands produces an open park-like aspect approximating the optimum habitat of Bachman’s Sparrow.

The only mention that can be found in the literature on courtship activity of any of the three races of A. aestivahis comes in a letter to Mr. Bent from Val Nolan, of Bloomington, md.: “On May 6 I heard for the first time a vocal performance that circumstances suggest was connected with courtship. At 4:00 p.m. a male (assumed) burst out with a succession of ringing, bubbling notes in pattern and variety not unlike those of the Indigo Bunting’s typical song. These notes continued rapidly for 3 or 4 seconds, then abruptly switched to the usual song of the subspecies; this concluded the effort. I did not see the position of the male during this utterance, but a second or two after it ended two pine-woods sparrows flew up from the ground in the direction from which the song had come.

“On May 7 at 8:00 a.m. at the same place a bird repeated the song just described several times, once singing in mid-ak. The flight of the singer was slow, the wings fluttering rapidly. At the moment of utterance the back was arched and the head thrown up at an angle of 450 from the body, which was more or less parallel to the ground. I failed to see the other member of the pair, if it was present. This ecstatic song was never heard again.”

The only record that can be found in the literature of the exact period of incubation of any of the three races of A. aestivalis is cited for this race by Brooke Meanley (1959). Writing of a nest he found in central Louisiana Apr. 16, 1956, he states that the nest “was virtually complete by this date and the first egg was laid April 17. An additional egg was deposited each day through the 20th, completing the clutch of four eggs. The four eggs were marked and on May 2, the first three eggs laid had hatched; the fourth egg laid hatched the next day.” This seems to indicate that incubation commenced after the laying of the third egg, and that the period of incubation was 14 days.

Yal Nolan gives an interesting account of the behavior of a brood of nestlings from the day of hatching: “On my inspection of the nest during the ensuing few days I was impressed by the absence of any behavior indicative of fear in the nestlings. Until June 4 they did not even shrink from my hand as I parted the grass around them. On June 4 at 4:30 the situation changed. The young birds, now well feathered, sat silently as I bent over to look at them; then they suddenly burst squawking from the nest and scattered in flight. The distances of the flights were at least 10 yards. On landing the fledglings became silent and concealed themselves so well that I was unable to find them. Although my attentions were clearly the immediate cause of this departure from the nest, on the 10th day after hatching, the flight of the birds was so steady that it seems safe to say that the fledging was only slightly premature.”

Val Nolan adds a note on the behavior of an adult sparrow at a nest of newly hatched young, when he writes that it “had flown up and perched 2 feet high on a little limb at a few yards’ distance. Calling the sharp pseet note repeatedly, it also engaged in several other actions of interest. At intervals it bobbed its body up and down vertically in the manner of the wrens, suddenly flexing and then extending the legs and tarsi. At other times its tail switched and its body jerked from side to side, i.e., the sparrow quickly rotated its body horizontally within an angle of some 40~ without moving its feet.”

Although pine seed forms only a minor item in the food of any of the races of A. aestivalis, Brooke Meanley (1959) goes into some detail of its consumption in the pine forest management areas of Central Louisiana: “During years of a bumper pine seed crop (about every fifth year) pine mast is available in great quantities from October to January. ArtifIcial or direct seeding * * * in February and March supplements the native food supply. But in the artificial or direct seeding of cut-over lands Bacliman’s Sparrow is not an important depredating species. Damage to pine seed is inconsequential because of the relatively small numbers of this sparrow (one pair per two acres in optimum nesting habitat), non-flocking habits, and absence from large open grasslands.”

In winter this race withdraws from the northern part of its breeding range and is confined within a territory south of a line drawn from northeastern Texas to central western Mississippi, south to southeastern Texas and the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi.

Range: Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana south to the Gulf of Mexico.

Breeding Range: The Illinois Bachman’s sparrow breeds from southeastern Missouri (Ink), northeastern Illinois (Philo, La Grange), and central Indiana (Crawfordsville) south to southeastern Oklahoma (Bethel), central Texas (Giddings, Buffalo Bayou), and south central Louisiana (Baton Rouge).

Winter range: Winters from northeastern Texas (Dallas), southeastern Oklahoma (McCurtain County Game Refuge), and central western Mississippi (Edwards) south to southeastern Texas (Silsbee), south central Louisiana (Baton Rouge), and southern Mississippi (Gulfport).

Casual records: Casual in northeastern Kansas (Wyandotte County) and central northern Oklahoma (Alva).

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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