Lincoln's sparrow -- 林氏带鹀 (Melospiza lincolnii)

Lincoln's sparrow
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST

Top facts

  • Lincoln’s sparrow is named after Thomas Lincoln, who was the travelling companion of John James Audubon who first identified the species.
  • The juvenile, female and male Lincoln’s sparrow all have a very similar plumage.
  • Young Lincoln’s sparrows only learn to fly six days after leaving the nest.
  • If a female Lincoln’s sparrow is disturbed while building a nest, it is likely that she will abandon it.
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Lincoln's sparrow fact file

Lincoln's sparrow description

GenusMelospiza (1)

Lincoln’s sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) is a rather drab but handsome bird (3). Its plumage is grey-brown and there are fine, black streaks on its back and sides (3) (4) as well as on its buff-coloured chest (3) (4), which contrasts with its white belly (2) (4). The face and head are grey (4), and certain subspecies also have a stripe along the middle of the crown (2). Members of this species have narrow, buff eye rings (4), which surround the dark red-brown eyes. The bicoloured bill is dark horn-brown above and paler below, and the legs and feet may vary from flesh-coloured and brown (2).

The male and female Lincoln’s sparrow are alike in appearance (2) (4), and the juvenile is also relatively similar (2) (3), although its crown is brown or grey-brown and is patterned with dark streaks (2).

The song of Lincoln’s sparrow is a rich warble (2) (3), which varies between high and low pitches throughout (3). The call is a sharp ‘tep’ or ‘chip(2).

There are three recognised subspecies of Lincoln’s sparrow: Melospiza lincolnii lincolnii, Melospiza lincolnii gracilis and Melospiza lincolnii alticola, which differ in their distribution, size and plumage (2) (4).


Lincoln's sparrow biology

The diet of Lincoln’s sparrow differs depending on the season, with mostly arthropods, such as beetles, flies, butterflies, mayflies and leaf hoppers being taken during the breeding season (3) (4). In winter, the diet changes and individuals take small seeds and any invertebrates that are available (2) (3) (4). Foraging is performed on or close to the ground, and is usually done in pairs or small groups (2).

A migratory species, Lincoln’s sparrow begins its southward migration in early September and usually reaches its overwintering grounds by late October. Northward migration back to the breeding grounds begins in mid- to late April and is completed by late May (2) (4). A pair bond is then formed between a male and female, who are then thought to remain monogamous throughout the breeding season (2) (3) (4).

The female Lincoln’s sparrow begins to build the nest in early June (4) and usually completes the structure in around three days (2) (3) (4). The nest is placed on the ground or slightly elevated within a shrub and is cup-shaped (2), with an outer layer made of sedge and grass and a contrasting interior, which is made using softer vegetation (2) (3) as well as hair (2). If the female is disturbed during the period of nest construction, it is likely that the nest will be abandoned (3). An average Lincoln’s sparrowclutch contains between three and five off-white to pale blue eggs, which may be patterned with dark brown spots (2). The female incubates the eggs (2) (4), which hatch after between 10 and 13 days (2) (3). The chicks are then fed by both the male and female (2), and usually remain in the nest for up to 11 days before fledging (2) (3) (4). Once they have left the nest, it may take the young up to six days to learn to fly and until then they remain hidden in vegetation to protect themselves from predators. Most young have usually fledged by early August (4).


Lincoln's sparrow range

The breeding range of Lincoln’s sparrow extends across Canada and into some western and central states in the United States, including Wyoming, New Mexico and Idaho. While migrating, this species moves through the Caribbean and United States, but it does not pass through certain south-eastern states, such as Florida or Georgia. After migrating, individuals overwinter in Central America and southern areas of the United States (3) (4) (5). Vagrant populations have also been reported in Bermuda (2), Greenland, Jamaica and Panama (5).


Lincoln's sparrow habitat

The habitat of Lincoln’s sparrow is seasonally variable, and during the breeding season this species is found in subalpine and montane regions (4) where it inhabits boggy areas with an abundance of willow (Salix species), sedge (Carex species) and moss (2) (4), such as meadows and riparian thickets (3).

While it is migrating, Lincoln’s sparrow temporarily inhabits riparian sites where there are abundant shrubs in which it can take cover (4).

In its overwintering grounds, Lincoln’s sparrow is found in evergreen, coniferous, pine and tropical deciduous forests, as well as savannah and areas surrounding freshwater (4). This species lives in areas up to elevations of 3,000 metres (2).


Lincoln's sparrow status

Lincoln's sparrow is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Lincoln's sparrow threats

Lincoln’s sparrow is not globally threatened (2), although the wild population may have been affected by agricultural chemical use (3) (4), habitat degradation and human disturbance to its nesting sites (2) (3) (4). Many mortalities also occur when individuals collide with buildings and television towers (3) (4).


Lincoln's sparrow conservation

There are not known to be any conservation measures currently in place for Lincoln’s sparrow, although it has been recommended that protecting the habitat of this species and controlling the amount of recreational activity in close proximity to nesting areas could ensure that the wild population does not begin to decline (4).

Further research into the biology and ecology of Lincoln’s sparrow may also help to create suitable conservation measures in the future (4).


Find out more

Find out more about Lincoln’s sparrow:

Find out more about bird conservation in North America:



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A major grouping of animals that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
A plant that sheds its leaves at the end of the growing season.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
Of mountains, or growing in mountains.
Relating to the banks of rivers and streams.
Of or relating to the higher slopes of mountains, just below the tree line.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
An individual found outside the normal range of the species.


  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2014)
  2. del Hoyo, J. and Rising, J. (2011) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 16: Tanagers to New World Blackbirds. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Available at:
  3. All About Birds - Lincoln’s sparrow (January, 2014)
  4. Ammon, E.M. (1995) Lincoln’s sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
  5. BirdLife International - Lincoln’s sparrow (January, 2014)

Image credit

Lincoln's sparrow  
Lincoln's sparrow

© Jim Zipp /

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