A secretive grassland bird of central parts of North America, the LeConte’s Sparrow frequently runs through dense grass like a mouse rather than flushing. LeConte’s Sparrows are most obvious when singing on territory during the breeding season, and is much more difficult to find during the winter months.
LeConte’s Sparrows defend small breeding territories of about one-half acre in size. They also appear to maintain winter territories, with individuals typically spacing themselves less than 50 yards apart, but not occurring in flocks like so many other winter sparrows.
Length: 5 inches
Wing span: 6 inches
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Description of the Le Conte’s Sparrow
The LeConte’s Sparrow has a dark back patterned with some rufous, a bright, buffy-orange supercilium, a gray nape with fine, rufous streaking, a buffy breast with dark streaking, and a white belly. Like all Ammodramus sparrows, its short tail is evident in flight.
Seasonal change in appearance
Juveniles have wide, pale stripes on the back.
LeConte’s Sparrows inhabit tallgrass prairies, wet meadows, and hayfields.
LeConte’s Sparrows eat insects and seeds.
LeConte’s Sparrows forage on the ground.
LeConte’s Sparrows breed across much of eastern and central Canada and parts of the north-central U.S. They winter in the southeastern and south-central U.S. The population appears to be stable.
When flushed from prairie grasses, LeConte’s Sparrows exhibit a very weak, fluttery flight, though the species is indeed migratory.
LeConte’s Sparrows nests are difficult to locate, because the female often runs some distance before flushing from the nest.
The song consists of an insect-like buzz. A high “tip” call is given as well.
- The Henslow’s Sparrow has a greenish cast to the head and nape, and Savannah Sparrows have yellowish lores. Sharp-tailed sparrows have a plain gray nape.
The LeConte’s Sparrow’s nest is a cup of grasses and rushes, and is lined with finer materials. It is placed on or near the ground, well hidden in vegetation.
Number: Usually lay 3-5 eggs.
Color: Whitish with darker markings.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 12-13 days, and fledge at an unknown age, though likely remaining dependent on the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the Le Conte’s Sparrow
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Le Conte’s Sparrow – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
PASSERHERBULUS CAUDACUTUS (Latham)
Le Conte’s sparrow was described by Latham in 1790 from a specimen taken in the interior of Georgia. Apparently the species was not recorded again until May 24, 1843, when Audubon collected one along the upper Missouri and named it “after my young friend Doctor Le Conte,” a student of natural history. The third known specimen was taken in Washington County, Tex., by Linceceuxn in 1872. Then in the slimmer of 1873 Elliot Coues (1874) encountered the species in North Dakota between the Turtle Mountains and the Souris River and wrote:
“I only noticed the birds on one occasion, August 9th, when a number were found together in the deep green sea of waving grass that rolled over an extensive moist depression of the prairie. Five specimens were secured in the course of an hour, not without difficulty; for the grass being waist-high, the only chance was a snap shot, as the birds, started at random, flitted in sight for a few seconds; while it was quite as hard to find them when killed.”
Since then the range and distribution of this unobtrusive and elusive little finch have gradually been worked out, but as yet comparatively little is known about its breeding habits, winter behavior, and migration. The bird is so secretive, so nondescript, and so hard to observe that its presence often passes unnoticed. An inhabitant of the drier borders of the larger marshes of central North America, it lives hidden in the grasses and sedges and is seldom seen in flight. P. B. Peabody (1901) writes of his experiences with it in northwestern Minnesota:
This weird, mouse-like creature I met in the Red River Valley of Kittson County, Minnesota, on May 27, 1396. Two specimens were taken in a timothy field redeemed from marshy meadow, and swarming at the time with Red-winged Blackbirds, Soras, Western Savanna Sparrows, Wilsons Phalaropes, and Bobolinks, along with the water fowl and other larger birds * * *. One might, f or example, search its familiar haunts day after day during the daytime, at the beginning of the period of its arrival in the North, without detecting the slightest evidence of its presence. One must learn just what sort of “cover” is favored by the bird or he will fail to flush it even with minutest search, as the bird, save during the early and the late hours of the day, even in the height of its courtship, is conspicuously silent **** I have searched a whole day, on favorable ground, without meeting the bird; while at dusk after starting home, I counted fifteen distinct recurrences of its note along the wayside in going two miles through the meadows.
Most of its time is spent in the dense dead grass, though it feeds, in the morning and at sunset, where the living grass is scanty.
Because of its secretive habits and its unimpressive, insect like song, Le Conte’s sparrow has often been and doubtless still is overlooked in many regions where it is fairly common. Of my own early experiences with the species in Chippewa County, Mich., in 1935, I (1937) Tote:
My first impression of Leconte’s Sparrow was that it is a very elusive bird. If a male was heard singing and one approached to within fifty to seventy feet, his song would cease. On pacing over the area the bird might be flushed once, when he would fly just over the rushes for about a hundred feet, then drop into the matted masses of dead vegetation where he disappeared completely. But, after several minutes of quiet waiting, the same wheezy song would be beard and the male located in a similar manner. One male was not as wild * * *, but remained within a range of twenty feet. On several occasions he was seen sliding underneath a mass of vegetation only eight or ten feet away, then coming out from the other side, craning his neck to see if I was following. If I did follow his incessant chipping, he soon widened the space between us and finally disappeared. If I returned to the supposed proximity of the nest-site, he was there to repeat the performance; otherwise he would soon begin to sing.
In the Munuscong Bay State Park area where the above notes were made, the species inhabited the drier borders of the rush-grown marshes, “where the most conspicuous plant was Scirpus validu.s (Vahi). During June, the marsh growth consisted almost entirely of this rush; masses of old dead rushes strewed the ground as the past seasons Lad left them, with new stalks protruding from these masses.
Intermixed with these were many little willows, mostly about one or two feet in height.”
These sites are frequently flooded during periods of heavy rainfall. The Munuscong nest I found in 1935 was inundated twice, but the birds remained in the vicinity to renest when the water receded. For about the next five years the Munuscong nesting grounds stayed free of deep water. Then they flooded again, and the high water has persisted to this day, forcing the Le Conte’s sparrows to desert the area.
Elsewhere on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I found the species summering regularly on certain drier marshes covered with fine sedges and grasses, often where they were completely surrounded by bog in Luce, Chippewa, and Mackinac counties. In 1935 one or two singing males could usually be heard in most of these damp, grassgrown clearings. I also found them on the drier portions of the great Seney Marshes in Schoolcraft County, which has since become the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. After highways were built far out in these marshes I found the species there regularly until 1956. They were there in 1955, but in 1956, though the marshes appeared no different than before, neither C. J. Henry nor I were able to find a single bird.
In central Saskatchewan we found the species fairly abundant in similar grassy areas during the summer of 1947. Here again the nesting sites were subject to flooding, often in completely isolated open marshy spots surrounded by coniferous forest.
Spring: Le Conte’s sparrow apparently migrates through the central portion of the United States in a general north-northwestward direction in spring. At this season, as at other times, it frequents damp open fields and marshes covered with thick grasses and sedges. It is just as bard to flush and flies only a short distance before dropping into the tall protecting grasses.
Russell B. Mumford tells me (in litt.) that he finds the species each spring and fall on grassy, damp, marshy areas at Willow Slough Game Preserve, Newton County, md. Robert Ridgway (1889) writes that in Illinois this elegant little sparrow is, in some localities at least, an abundant spring migrant. He noted a specimen taken May 13, 1875, at Riverdale, Ill., from a depression in the prairie near the Calumet River, where the moisture had caused an early growth of grass about 3 inches high; also that Charles K. Worthen of Warsaw took some 20 specimens from low swampy prairies in the Mississippi bottoms, occasionally from dry bluffs, but generally from wet, marshy ground.
Richard E. Olsen (1935) noted the first arrivals at Munuscong Bay State Park, Mich., on May 11 and 12, 1934. For Minnesota, Thomas S. Roberts (1932) gives the average a~val date as about April 28, with earliest dates of April 6 (1929) and April 8 (1921). C. Stuart Houston and Maurice G. Street (1959) give the earliest arrival date at Nipawin, Saskatchewan, as Apr. 30, 1943, and the average May 6. Most Saskatchewan observers find May 10 to 26 as the date of first observance. Bernard W. Baker and I (1946) saw the first birds at Fawcett, Alberta, during the spring of 1942 on May 22.
Nesting: The nest of Le Conte’s sparrow somewhat resembles that of Henslow’s sparrow. It is built on or slightly above the ground in the drier borders of open marshes beneath tangles of old dead rushes, grasses, or sedges. It is so well concealed that it is extremely difficult to find; in fact, probably no more than 50 have ever been found. P. B. Peabody (1901) who probably found more nests than any other single person wrote of it:
Leconte’s Sparrow nests where dead grass is thickest. All along the Red River are still wide stretches of prairie, the lowland sections of which ahound in lower spots with luxuriant growths of heavier grass and vetch. It is in such places that Leconte’s Sparrow hreeds. This hird is exceedingly local. Every such hit of meadow as I have descrihed will have its pair of birds; and an expert can repeatedly flush the male, and at times the female, from this patch at almost anytirneofday. * * *
It [the nest] would seem to he built, in the main, as follows: where dead and fallen grass is thickest, the hird interweaves dead grasses among the standing stems, thus forming a rude nest. Within this is placed the nest proper; this is an exquisitely neat, well-rounded and deeply-cupped structure, composed uniformly of the very finest grasses. In all hut two of the nests noted above, there was a more or less thick covering of fallen dead grass; all the nests except these two were in the lowland. The average nest is placed with the base ahout eight inches above the ground. One of the lowland nests noted barely touched the ground, however, while the two upland nests were half sunk into the earth, being thus, in situation and surroundings, somewhat like nests of the Western Savanna Sparrow, though somewhat smaller and relatively deeper.
Of a nest I found at Munuscong Bay State Park, Mich., I wrote (1937):
The nest was built in a perfectly dry area which on two occasions became flooded during heavy rains, water filling the lower half of the nest the first time, yet the female incubated regardless. The second time, the young had hatched, and although I had raised the nest several inches, they were drowned. Originally this nest was about 30 mm. from the ground under a mass of fallen last year’s rushes, through which the new rushes were just beginning to show. A few short willows were scattered throughout the area, two or three of which were very close to the nest. * * * It measured, when fresh, 60 by 60 mm. inside and 90 by 120 mm. in outside dimensions. The floor was 30 mm. below the top and the walls were from 30 to 35 mm. thick. It was a rather bulky affair, yet beautifully constructed.
This nest was built of stems of grass, of Eleocharis palusiris, and smaller rushes lined with very fine grass. Thomas S. Roberts (1932) reports hair in addition to fine grasses in the lining.
Eggs: Le Gonte’s sparrow lays three to five, usually four eggs.
They are ovate and only slightly glossy. The ground is grayish white, speckled, spotted, blotched, and clouded with “snuff brown,” “Saccardo’s umber,” “cinnamon brown,” or “Mars brown,” with undermarkings of “light Quaker drab.” These markings are generally more or less evenly dispersed over the entire surface. The measurements of 50 eggs average 18.0 by 13.7 millimeters; those showing the four extremes measure 20.4 by 13.9, 19.7 by 15.0, 16.3 by 13.0, and 18.3 by 12.7 millimeters.
Young: The length of the incubation period is not known accurately. The nest I found in northern Michigan contained five eggs on June 4,1935, three of which hatched on June 16 and 17, a period of 12 to 13 days. Incubation should not require any more time than this, judging by the requirements of related species of similar size, and might even take less under ideal conditions.
Incubation is performed entirely by the female while the ‘male guards the territory and sings nearby. On June 17, 1935, when the female was brooding and feeding three newly hatched young and incubating one unhatehed egg, I watched the nest closely for 225 minutes (11:15 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.). In this time she brooded for 146 minutes (65 percent) and was away for 79 minutes (35 percent). She left the nest 16 times; her periods of brooding averaged 9 minutes with extremes from 1 to 21 minutes; her absences averaged 5 minutes with extremes of h to 20 minutes. At no time was I sure that the male fed the young, but they were fed 10 times during this period at an average interval of 21.4 minutes, with extremes of 5 to 41 minutes between feedings.
At hatching these three young weighed 1.7, 1.7, and 1.8 grams respectively. One young at one day of age weighed 2.5 grams, one at two days weighed 3.4 grams, and one at three days 4.5 grams. The skin color of newly hatched Le Conte’s sparrows is lighter and pinker than that of Savannah sparrow young. The sparse natal down is wood brown.
Plumages: T. S. Roberts (1932) thus describes the juvenal plumage: “A general suffusion of pale tawny or huffy-yellow above, below, and on sides of head; very little chestnut above; the color on hindneck and median crown-stripe tawny yellow; streaked more or less thickly across breast with narrow blackish lines, bend of wing white in four specimens, very pale yellow in two; tail obscurely barred. By September the throat and abdomen are becoming paler (whitish in some specimens), the bird generally less tawny, with chestnut appearing on head and hack, and the breast-stripes more sparse; the latter disappear with the completion of the postjuvenal molt.”
R. W. Dickerman (1962) adds the following details, which help distinguish the juvenal Le Conte’s from the juvenal Nelson’s sharp tailed sparrow, which have occasionally been confused in the literature. The colors in italics are from Ridgway (1912).
1. Underparts pale, band across breast nearest Cinnamon Buff, much paler on chin and belly, fading to whitish in older juvenals.
2. Streakings of breast band fine, but usually well developed, comparable to the breast streakings in adult Henslow’s Sparrows, occasionally nearly obsolete in the middle of the band; streakings on flanks heavier than those of breast.
3. Dorsally similar to Sharp-tailed young but much paler, nearer Clay Color but ranging between Cinnamon Buff and Tawny Olive.
4. Tertials with broader black shaft-streak bordered narrowly with rust and with pale buff or buffy white edges.
5. Rectrices with sharply demarked shaft-streak bordered by rust colored area paling outwardly to pale grayish brown feather edge.
The subsequent sequence of plumages and molts in this species has not been well worked out. From the limited material available, the first winter plumage apparently is acquired by a complete postjuvenal molt which starts in August and is completed by late September or early October. In this dress the young birds close]y resemble the adults.
Le Conte’s sparrow undergoes at least a partial spring molt which apparently begins on the wintering grounds in March or April and is completed by the time the birds reach the breeding grounds in May. Chapman (1910) claimed this “spring molt is confined to the head and breast,” but H. B. Tordoff and R. M. Mengel (1951) produce evidence that all the body feathers are replaced at this time. They note, however, “We found no positive evidence of molt of remiges other than that involving the tertials. Comparison of birds taken in late winter and early spring with specimens taken in May indicates, in general ,greater wear of primaries and secondaries in the May birds.” While they found some tail feathers being replaced, the evidence for complete involvement of the tail in this molt is inconclusive, for the feathers being replaced “may, of course, have been lost in some mishap.” They continue:
“The spring plumage acquired by the molt here described diflers slightly but definitely from fresh fall plumage. The faint necklace of dark streaking on the breast usually characteristic of fresh fall specimens is nearly or totally lacking in the newly molted spring birds we have seen. It might be assumed that these streaks have been lost by wear, but even worn late winter birds usually have some remnant of these markings. The dorsal plumage in spring lacks some of the richness of tone (i.e., abundance of warm browns at the expense of black) present in fall.”
Food: Little seems to have been recorded about the food of Le Conte’s sparrow. Its diet probably closely parallels those of the closely related grassland sparrows such as Henslow’s and the sharp tails, being largely insectivorous in the breeding season with a higher percentage of vegetable matter, primarily weed seeds, in winter. David A. Easterla (1962) reports that the contents of 15 gizzards of birds collected in the spring and fall near Columbia, Mo., contained 83 percent vegetable matter, mainly seeds of grasses and forbs, and 17 percent animal foods, predominantly leafhoppers, spiders, and stinkbugs. Apparently the young are fed almost entirely on insects. Those I watched in Michigan were being fed small larvae gleaned from the nearby marsh vegetation.
Voice: I (1937) described the song of Le Conte’s sparrow from my own notes and the publlshed accounts by others as follows:
The song of the Leconte’s Sparrow is very unimpressive, resembling more the song of some insect than that of a bird. It has been described by many authors. Seton, in “The Birds of Manitoba” (1890, p. 596) describes the song as “a tiny, husky, double note ‘reese-reese’, so thin a sound and so creaky that I believe it is usually attributed to a grasshopper.” Roberts, in the “Birds of Minnesota” (1932, 2: 393) gives Breckenridge’s impression of the song: “The Leconte’s song begins with one short, barely audible, squeaky note, followed by a fine, high, insect-like buzz similar to [that of] the Grasshopper Sparrow and about one second in duration: a tiny, hardly audible ‘chip’ terminates the effort” (Red River Valley, June 23, 1928). Farley in the “Birds of the Battle River Region” (1932, p. 57) says: “Its soft lisping note, ize, uttered with monotonous frequency as the bird clings to a tall grass stem, sounds more like an insect than that of a bird.”
The song when near at hand to me sounds like z-z-z-buzzzz, and lasts by the stop-watch 0.015 of a minute in duration, which is approximately one second as stated by Breckenridge. The first part of the song reaches its shrillest just at the close, when it can be heard for some distance. It is much higher pitched than that of the Savannah Sparrow, heard in the same wet meadows, yet the song of the Savannah lasts nearly three times as long. Often, when in the blind, another song was heard, sometimes alone, again preceding the regular insect-like buzz. This song has been described by Peabody as “a dry, creaky e’elree-e’elree-e’elreee’elree.” He adds: “This note must be rarely indulged in, as I recall having heard it but twice.” It is not uttered nearly as often as the other more common song. This song resembles a similar one of the Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus sevennerum austrolis), and like the song of the latter, it is more often followed by the regular buzzing song.
Very seldom have I observed the bird utter the song more than a foot from the ground. Once, while crossing near the supposed nesting-site, a male suddenly flew into the air with quivering wings, and while maintaining a stationary position, uttered his regular song, then dropped again to the dead rushes. The procedure was much like the one often given by the Prairie Marsh Wren.
Although I was not awake all of the hours of darkness, the male was heard to sing as early as 3 a.m. and as late as 10:30 p.m., long after dark here in Michigan. From my cabin door I could easily hear it. For a period of fifteen minutes 10 to 10:15 p.m. on June 16, 1935, I timed his songs with a stop-watch and he repeated the song at the rate of ten times per minute, excepting for one minute when it was repeated nine times. At dawn it was repeated at about this same rate. For thirty minutes between 1:45 and 2:15 p.m., on June 17, it was repeated the following number of times per minute: 7,6,6,7,2,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,5,6,5,0,0,2,l,0,5, 5,0,7,4,0,0 and 0. This was at about the regular rate for the middle of the day ** *ï In central Alberta the rate corresponded with that in Michigan but daylight is much longer there during the nesting season.
The alarm note was a chip, sometimes single, hut more often double, and if one were near the nest, it became a very rapid chip-chip-chip-chip-chip, then repeated * * ‘~ï Another call heard from the blind as the female approached the nest was a very low, barely audible, z-z-zz-z. The male uttered this same call at one time when he circled over the nest and returned to his singing perch. Then there was the song uttered twice on June 17, 1935, by the female on the nest as the male sang nearby. This song was chit-chil-t-t-t-t and I have heard the Grasshopper Sparrow, both male and female, utter a song almost identical at the nest in southern Michigan (July, 1935).
Enemies: In some areas Le Conte’s sparrow is subject to cowbird parasitism. Peabody (1901) reported that 4 of the 14 nests he found in Kittson County, Miun., in 1897 contained cowbird eggs. Friedmann (1963) lists a few more records for Saskatchewan and Alberta. The extent to which cowbird interference affects reproductive efficiency in this species in unknown.
While Le Conte’s sparrow must certainly fall prey to hawks, owls, and other predators, and its nests must surely be ravaged at times by snakes, weasels, skunks, and foxes, no examples have been reported in the literature.
Field marks: This small grassland sparrow of wet, weedy fields and marshes is characterized by its buffy throat and underp arts with streaking confined to the sides, its buffy eyestripe, white crownstripe, pinkish-brown nape, and heavily striped back. It may be confused in the field mainly with the Savannah, grasshopper, sharp-tailed, and Henslow’s sparrows, which may occupy the same surroundings at various times of the year. The Savannah is markedly larger and lighter, and can be told in flight by its notched tail. The grasshopper sparrow lacks the streaked sides and the sharp-tails the white median crown strip~. The buffy underparts distinguish it from the lighterbellied Henslow’s sparrow, which is also slightly larger and heavier billed.
Fall: Le Conte’s sparrow migrates through the central United States in a general south-southeasterly direction in fall. In migration it frequents the same type of habitat it prefers during the remainder of the year. In Michigan the birds stop in the drier marshy areas and at times may be seen sitting on top of grass or sedge spikes, or even on a fence wire. While they may occasionally be found wandering in the longer grasses of dry fields near the marshes, they favor the wetter spots.
While hunting prairie chickens in Richiand County, Ill., Oct. 27 and 28, 1882, Robert Ridgway (1883) “was somewhat surprised to see Leconte’s Bunting there in great abundance; also ilenslow’s, which, however, was less numerous. The locality where the Leconte’s Buntings were first observed consisted of a patch of ‘open’ prairie 160 acres in extent, entirely overgrown with iron-weeds (Vernonia noveboracen8is) mixed with occasional patches of prairie grasses: the only part of the prairie not under cultivation. They were found, however, almost everywhere, grassy places being most affected. In flushing them it was almost necessary to kick them from the grass, and it was very rarely one would start up farther in front than a dozen feet. Their flight, like that of C. henslotvi, was very irregular making it difficult to shoot them * * *
Winter: In winter Le Conte’s sparrow is as hard, perhaps even harder to find than at any other season. In Georgia, where the type specimen was taken, T. D. Burleigh (1958) considers it “a scarce winter resident throughout the state” as well as “one of the leastknown birds in the state,” collected there on fewer than a dozen occasions. He continues:
Few small birds are as secretive and difficult to see as is the Leconte’s Sparrow. In Georgia, it seems to prefer old fields overgrown with broom sedge in which to spend the winter months, and to find one in such a spot requires both perseverence and a certain amount of luck. Reluctant at all times to fly, it will, if alarmed, seek safety by running swiftly along the ground, and only when hard pressed will it flush and remain briefly in view. Its flight then appears slow and feeble, and it will go but a short distance before dropping into the concealing vegetation. Instant pursuit may or may not result in another glimpse of this elusive little sparrow, depending largely on whether one has guessed correctly in which direction it ran on reaching the ground again. Considering these circumstances, it is not surprising that it has been so seldom reported in the state, and it is not improbable that it is much more common during the winter than the few records would indicate.
Of its winter status in Florida little has been discovered since A. H. Howell (1932) wrote:
A winter resident, chiefly on the west coast; apparently rare in most sections, though perhaps locally common. * * * Leconte’s Sparrows are probably the most elusive of the small sparrows, living in old fields under cover of dense, matted grass and weeds, from which they are flushed only with difficulty. Maynard is apparently the only collector who has found them common in Florida. His notes, made at Rosewood [Levy County] and published by Brewster (1882 * * *) are as follows:
“The first C. fecontei was shot November 4. Shortly afterwards they became so abundant that as many as twenty were sometimes seen in a day, but notwithstanding their numbers, it was by no means easy to obtain Specimens. The chief difficulty arose from their excessive tameness, for they could rarely he forced to take wing, while in the long grass it was impossible to see them at a greater distance than a few yards. Indeed so fearless were they that on several occasions Mr. Maynard nearly caught them in his insect net.”
Maynard was able to collect only 11 specimens in two seasons. Howell lists another half-dozen sight records, most of them in December and January. He collected one at Cape Sable “in short grass on the coastal prairie” Feb. 13, 1918. Since Howell’s day the species has been reported only about a dozen times, mainly on Audubon Christmas censuses. II. M. Stevenson lists it on his “Field Card of Florida Birds and their Status in the Tallahassee Region” (undated) as occurring in northwestern Florida from the third week of October to the first week of May.
In Alabama T. A. Jmhof (1962) considers Le Conte’s sparrow “rare to uncommon in winter and on migration.” His earliest fall record is September 23, his latest in spring May 15, both at the Wheeler Refuge in the Tennessee Valley. He reports the bird most commonly from December to March on the lower coastal plain and along the Gulf Coast.
Concerning its habits in Louisiana in winter 0. H. Lowery, Jr. (1955) writes:
Leconte and Henslow Sparrow are both commonly called “stink birds” by quail hunters because sometimes even well-trained bird dogs point them or are distracted by them. Both species occur mainly in broom sedge (Andre pogon) fields where, even though they are often common, they are seldom seen except for the few moments when a bird jumps out of the grass at one’s feet, flies twenty yards or so, and then pitches hack into the grass.
As a rule its habitat in Louisiana in winter is somewhat drier than that of the Henslow Sparrow, and it is nowhere more numerous than in slightly rolling terrain where there is a dense stand of broom sedge. On the coast of southwestern Louisiana, however, it is also plentiful in the short grass prairies paralleling the Gulf beach, as, for example, along the highway between Cameron and Johnson Bayou.
The Leconte Sparrow arrives in Louisiana in the latter part of October and remains sometimes until after the first of April. The bird is decidedly more numerous in southern Louisiana in midwinter than it is in northern Louisiana.
Range: Southern Mackenzie and northern Ontario south to southern Texas and the Gulf Coast.
Breeding Range: The Le Conte’s sparrow breeds from southern Mackenzie (Little Buffalo River), northeastern Alberta (Fort Chipewyan), central Saskatchewan (Flotten Lake, Churchill River), central Manitoba (Lake Winnepegosis, Lake St. Martin), and northern Ontario (Fort Severn, Attawapiskat Post.) south to north central Montana (Glacier Park), southeastern Alberta (Cassils Lake), southern Saskatchewan (Davidson), northern North Dakota (Souris River, Rock Lake), northwestern and eastern Minnesota (Marshall County, St. Paul), nortbeastern Wisconsin (Oconto County), and northern Michigan (Germfask, Munuscong Bay); casually south to southeastern South Dakota (Miner County), northeastern Illinois (near Chicago), and southern Ontario (near Bradford). Casual in breeding season east to Quebec (St. Fulgence).
Winter Range: Winters occasionally from southern Missouri and southern and northeastern flhinois (Glenwood), and more regularly from central western Kansas (Lane County), central Oklahoma (Canadian and Payne counties), northwestern Arkansas (Fayettevile), central Alabama (Elmore County), south central Georgia (Tifton), and central and eastern South Carolina (Savannah River Plant, Georgetown County), south to southeastern New Mexico (Roswell), southern Texas (Corpus Christi), southern Louisiana (Avery Island), southern Mississippi (Gulfport), northwestern Florida (Milton, Rosewood), and southeastern Georgia (Camden County).
Casual records: Casual west to Idaho (Fort Sherman), Utah (Provo), and Colorado (Gunnison); east to Quebec (Beaupr4, St. Fulgence), New York (Ithaca) and North Carolina (Raleigh); and south to southern Florida (Cape Sable).
Migration: Early dates of spring arrival are: North Carolina: Raleigh, April 21. Kentucky: Bowling Green, April 12. Missouri: St. Louis, March 15 (median of 5 years, April 5). Illinois: Quincy, March 14; Chicago, March 15 (average of 9 years, April 18). Indiana: Bloomington, April 28. Ohio: Ross Lake, April 5. Michigan: Munuskong Bay State Park, May 11. Ontario: Kenora, April 21. Iowa: Iowa City, March 29. Wisconsin: Mayvile, April 1; Sauk County, April 16. Minnesota: Elk River, April S (average, April 25). Nebraska: Lincoln, March 17. South Dakota: Yankton, April 11. North Dakota: Jamestown, April 22; Cass County, April 27 (average, May 8). Manitoba: Margaret, April 6. Saskatchewan: Indian Head, April 30.
Late dates of spring departure are: Florida: Manatee, May 3; Wakulla Beach, April 21. Alabama: Wheeler Refuge, Decatur, May 15. Georgia: Athens, April 6. South Carolina: Charleston, May 8. North Carolina, Raleigh, April 21. Louisiana: Lobdell, April 25. Mississippi: Saucier, April 8. Arkansas: Winslow, May 11. Tennessee: Nashville, May 14. Missouri: St. Louis, May 6 (median of 5 years, April 21). Elinois: Chicago, May 23 (average of 9 years, April 24). Ontario: Point Pelee, May 10. Texas: Sinton, April 20. Oklahoma: Cleveland County, April 3. Kansas: Onaga, May 14. Nebraska: Neligh, April 15.
Early dates of fall arrival are: North Dakota: Jamestown, September 29. South Dakota: Forestburg, September 25. Kansas: Lawrence, October 7. Oklahoma: Cleveland County, October, 12. Michigan: Newberry, September 26. Ohio: central Ohio, October 31. Illinois: Chicago, September 9. Missouri: St. Louis, September 25. Louisiana: Baton Rouge, October 31. South Carolina: Charleston, October 25. Alabama: Decatur, September 23. Florida: Tallahassee, October 18.
Late dates of fall departure are: Manitoba: Treesbank, September 18. North Dakota: Cass County, October 18 (average, September 26). South Dakota: Forestburg, October 5. Kansas: Neosho Falls, December 18. Minnesota: Hutchinson, October 26 (average of 6 years for southern Minnesota, October 9). Wisconsin: Iowa County, November 5. Michigan: Newberry, October 10. Ohio: Hebron, November 23. Illinois: Port Byron, October 14; Chicago, October 12. Missouri: St. Louis, November 20.
Egg dates: Alberta: 6 records, June 6 to June 24. Illinois: 6 records, May 22 to June 12.
Manitoba: 7 records, June 4 to June 21.
Michigan: 1 record, June 4.
Minnesota: 15 records, May 29 to June 24; 13 records, May 29 to June 9. Ontario: 4 records, June 10 to July 11; 1 record, June 10.
Saskatchewan: 1 record, June 4.
Wisconsin: 6 records, May 23 to June 6.