Sparrows in Maine

18 Sparrows in Maine: A Comprehensive, Insightful Overview

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Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife lists 292 species of birds that occur within the Pine Tree State’s borders, including a diverse array of waterfowl, seabirds, and songbirds like sparrows.

The northernmost east-coast state in the United States provides homes for at least 18 species of sparrows, though unlikely birds can sometimes end up in some surprising places. You never know what you might find when you’re out looking for birds.

Let’s take a look at this group of little brown birds that you might find in your state. All measurements are via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow
  • Passer domesticus
  • Length: 5.9-6.7 inches
  • Weight: 0.9-1.1 ounces
  • Wingspan: 7.5-9.8 inches

House sparrows are one of the most common birds in 21st-century North America, but they’re not North American birds by nature.

Introduced in New York in 1851, the house sparrow quickly swept across the continent, aided by further reintroductions in San Francisco and Salt Lake City, according to All About Birds.

In hindsight, it was an unfortunate introduction, as the millions of house sparrows often out-compete native cavity-nesting species for nesting sites. According to a 2004 Cornell Chronicle article referencing the Bird House Network, house sparrows account for 43 percent of nesting box competitor species that take away nesting spots from native bluebirds and swallows.

Male and female house sparrows have different features, a rarity for sparrows. Breeding males have gray undersides, black bibs, and faces that are divided into light off-white, gray, brown, and black sections.

Females are unstreaked below with brown patterned backs and wings. They’re unremarkably brown throughout.

Due to their relative lack of fear of humans and occupation of human-occupied areas like cities and suburbs, house sparrows are very familiar birds to most Americans.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American tree sparrows’ names give the impression that they’re tree-dwelling birds, but they’re more commonly seen on the ground, where they feed and nest.

Most residents of the United States are only likely to see this sparrow during the winter when they come down from Alaska and the most northern reaches of Canada, where they breed each year.

During the winter, they can be found from Maine down to the Carolinas, often visiting backyards and bird feeders to satisfy their appetites. According to All About Birds, tree sparrows must consume about 30 percent of their body weight in food each day. A day without eating means a loss of almost 20 percent of their weight.

Both male and female tree sparrows have gray undersides with a dark spot in the center of the chest, though that spot may appear more like a smudge on some birds. They have rusty red caps, eyelines, and markings near the shoulder, as well as a bill that’s dark on top and yellow on the bottom.

Like many sparrows, they have patterned wings of brown, black, and white.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping sparrows are widespread, common birds across much of North America, from the western shores of British Columbia to Maine and Nova Scotia.

Chipping sparrows, in their breeding plumage, have gray bellies, throates, and faces that make their dark eyeline and rusty brown cap stick out even more.

Their wings, while patterned in brown, are relatively light in color, unlike the orange-brown of the American tree sparrow or the darker house sparrow.

Non-breeding adults keep the same gray undersides and light patterned brown wings, but their rusty cap turns a dull brown and their black eyeline turns to a dark brown.

Chipping sparrows are breeding residents of Maine, so people here don’t have to worry as much about identifying them in their non-breeding plumage.

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow
  • Spizella pusilla
  • Length: 4.7-5.9 inches
  • Weight: 0.4-0.5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 7.9 inches

The field sparrow’s range occupies only the southern part of Maine during the breeding season, and those birds will more than likely leave the area in the fall for a non-breeding range that reaches from Georgia and northern Florida up to Massachusetts.

Field sparrows are relatively lightly colored, from their unstreaked undersides to their light orange caps and markings behind their eyes.

They have small, pinkish bills from which a bouncing bill song emanates. Similar to a ball bouncing up and down, lower and lower until it comes to a rest, the notes get closer and closer together as the song draws to a close.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Following a couple of lightly colored sparrows. we arrive at the swamp sparrow, a slightly darker bird throughout, most noticeably on its facial stripes and those that run over the top of the head.

Swamp sparrows have brown and gray undersides and bi-colored bills with a yellow lower half and a dark top.

Swamp sparrows are a mostly upper Midwest to northeastern species with a U.S. range from the eastern edge of the Dakotas to the upper Atlantic states. Their Canadian range stretches further west.

While not all sparrow names are accurate in relation to habitat usage like the American tree sparrow, the swamp sparrow’s name is accurate, as your best bet to see one of these birds is to head out into a marsh or wetland.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

The first of our sparrows with streaky chests is Lincoln’s sparrow, mostly a breeding resident of northern Maine with some sightings of migrating birds in the southern half of the state.

Lincoln’s sparrows have russet-brown stripes that run over the top of the head, along the face, mustache markings, and chest streaks, with white bellies and a little white area under the bill.

Look for them on forest edges during migration periods. When breeding, look for them in wet meadows or in areas of trees like aspens, cottonwoods, and willows, All About Birds states.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow
  • Melospiza melodia
  • Length: 4.7-6.7 inches
  • Weight: 0.4-1.9 ounces
  • Wingspan: 7.1-9.4 ounces

Song sparrows are very common in much of North America, and their residence close to humans can make them feel even more abundant.

According to the American Bird Conservancy, there are about 130 million song sparrows out there, though that population is decreasing, as is the unfortunate trend for a number of the continent’s sparrows.

They have a sweet song that rings out from roadsides, along fields, and near the water, though they also have more secluded habitats as well.

Song sparrows have slightly blotchy streaks in comparison to some of the more well-defined streaks of sparrows like Lincoln’s sparrows. They’re not nearly as splotchy and ill-defined as the next bird on our list, however.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca
  • Passerella iliaca
  • Length: 5.9-7.5 inches
  • Weight: 0.9-1.6 ounces
  • Wingspan: 10.5-11.4 inches

The fox sparrow is a large sparrow with large, splotchy streaks down the throat and chest, but it’s relatively rare in Maine. Its mostly brief times in the state come during the spring and fall, but some birds will winter near coastal Maine and some may breed along the northwestern edge of the state.

Fox sparrows have several subspecies across North America, some of which are less red and more brown like the sooty, thick-billed, or slate-colored fox sparrows. Maine’s fox sparrows are splotchy and red like the red fox that lends its name to this bird.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah sparrows have one of the wider North American ranges, with almost all of Canada and Alaska within its potential range.

The species was named for a specimen found in Savannah, Georgia, despite the fact that “savanna” could very easily describe the bird’s preferred habitat of grasslands and other open areas.

Savannah sparrows are streaky throughout, from the belly to the head. One signature marking is a yellow eyebrow mark, though this may be less noticeable on some birds.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

This diminutive sparrow lives among grasslands and shrublands, where it feeds on insects – including grasshoppers. They also have a dry, insect-like buzz that opens up their song.

Listening for a grasshopper sparrow may also be your best bet at spotting one and adding it to your life list. Once you hear that buzzing sound, scan the tops of fenceposts or bushes to try and get a look at the bird.

Your best bet to see one is probably also not within the state of Maine, where they have a limited range in the southernmost corner of the state. Their range reaches from the Great Plains to the mid-Atlantic states.

They have unstreaked undersides with a marking behind the eye as well as some yellowing between the eyes and the bill.

The grasshopper sparrow has lost 68 percent of its population since 1970, according to Partners in Flight, with “habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation” at the center of its plight.

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper sparrows are often less shy than other small, difficult-to-identify sparrows, but they’re still a tough I.D. given a lack of white markings like the white-crowned or white-throated sparrow, a yellow mark like the Savannah sparrow, or noticeable eyeline like the chipping sparrow.

One unique marking is a rufous red patch on the shoulder, but it can be difficult to spot a tiny patch on a one-ounce sparrow from 100 feet away. They also have a noticeable white eyering, streaking that ends at the chest, and white outer tail feathers.

The vesper sparrow is the only member of its genus Pooecetes, meaning grass-dweller, via All About Birds. While it’s far from the only grass-dwelling sparrow, grasslands are the best place to see one or hear its sweet song in meadows, farm fields, or other open areas.

Unfortunately, the vesper sparrow’s northeastern population has been on a steep dive. Mass Audubon, for example, listed the species’ conservation status in Massachusetts as “very local and strongly declining,” with “conservation action urgent.”

The biggest threat facing vesper sparrows, as well as other grassland sparrows like the grasshopper sparrow, is a decline in suitable habitat.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

For some birders in northern states, the white-crowned sparrow is a harbinger of things to come. In this case, it’s either winter or summer.

By the time you start to notice these black-and-white-capped sparrows stopping at your feeders, they’re likely to be on their way soon, as they breed further north in Canada and Alaska and winter in more southern states, with Connecticut forming the northernmost edge of their winter range. They may remain year-round in parts of the western United States.

During their short time in Maine, they may visit feeders for a quick power-up for the last stretch of their migration. Their helmets of alternating black and white bars are their signature style.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

White-crowned sparrows live year-round in some areas of Maine, like the bulk of their coastal range and some inland areas close to the coast. In the rest of the state, they’re breeding birds.

Most of the white-throated sparrow’s breeding range is in Canada, so it’s fitting that All About Birds describes the bird’s whistling song as sounding like ‘Oh-sweet-Canada.’

As a forest-dwelling bird, the white-throated sparrow is right at home in Maine, a state that is about 90 percent forested, the highest percentage of any state in the country, according to the Maine TREE Foundation.

Seaside Sparrow

Seaside Sparrow
  • Ammospiza maritima
  • Length: 5.1-5.9 inches
  • Weight: 0.7-1.0 ounces
  • Wingspan: 7.1-7.9 inches

Sightings are rare in Maine, but you still have a chance to spot a seaside sparrow in a saltmarsh along the coast.

In 2022, one was routinely reported near the Nonesuch River in Cumberland County by eBird users, one was reported on Monhegan Island in October of 2014, and there have been other sporadic reports. Keep your eye on local bird reports like those from eBird so that when one starts to show up regularly, you can make an effort to spot it.

The bulk of these birds’ range is further south, including year-round residence from the Carolinas through the Gulf of Mexico for the seven seaside sparrow subspecies (try saying that three times fast!).

The most notable identifier for a seaside sparrow is its bulky bill unlike that of any other sparrow. Their long, thick bills protrude out from a dull brownish-gray face, save for a yellow marking between the eye and bill and white markings below the bill.

Saltmarsh Sparrow

Saltmarsh Sparrow

Saltmarsh sparrows share a habitat with seaside sparrows, and they’re a bit more common along the southern and central Maine coastlines than the rare seaside sparrow.

That’s not to say they’re super common, but you have a better chance at a sighting of one in saltmarshes along the coast than you do the seaside sparrow.

These birds’ faces feature a gray interior with a warm yellow exterior. They have unstreaked chins aside from two dark mustache lines, with streaky upper chests.

In the 1990s, the sharp-tailed sparrow was split into two species: Nelson’s sparrow and the saltmarsh sparrow. Nelson’s sparrows occupy a similar range in Maine, and deciding between these two birds can be one of the toughest identifications among the state’s sparrows.

Nelson’s Sparrow

Nelson's Sparrow
  • Ammospiza nelsoni
  • Length: 4.3-5.1 inches
  • Weight: 0.6-0.7 ounces
  • Wingspan: 6.5-7.9 inches

Though saltmarsh sparrows may have somewhat of a yellowish wash on their upper chests, Nelson’s sparrows often have more color on their chests, wider stripes than the thin saltmarsh streaking on the upper chest, and smaller bills.

The most common of the three coastside sparrows we’ve just touched on, Nelson’s sparrows can be found up the Maine coast and further north into Nova Scotia.

Nelson’s sparrows have a separate range in north-central North America, and they can be found inland in certain parts of the Northeast as well, but in Maine, it’s an almost exclusively coastal species.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Juncos
  • Junco hyemalis
  • Length: 5.5-6.3 inches
  • Weight: 0.6-1.1 ounces
  • Wingspan: 7.1-9.8 inches

One of Maine’s most common and familiar birds is the dark-eyed junco, a round little sparrow that can frequently be seen hopping through campsites, along the forest floor, and beneath feeders to pick up discarded seeds.

Females are a dull mix of gray, tan, and white without much streaking that look similar to traditional sparrows, but males are more unique.

It’s a species with significant regional differences, but the slate-colored variety in the eastern United States has a white belly and slate-gray plumage nearly everywhere else. They have light, almost pink bills, black eyes, and white outer tail feathers.

Dark-eyed juncos can be found across the Pine Tree State year-round.

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

They’re not the only towhees in North America, but the continent is pretty much split into two halves: spotted towhee territory and eastern towhee territory. Being on the eastern edge of the continent, Maine finds itself in the latter.

Eastern towhees have three distinct sections: a white belly, rusty orange flanks, and a large portion of their bodies along the tail, wings, head, and chest that’s black for males and brown for females.

Eastern towhees are year-round Southeasterners and breeding residents across much of the Midwest and Northeast, but most of Maine is actually a bit too far north for consistent sightings of these birds.

They’re most frequently seen on the ground or close to it.

More To Explore

With nearly 300 species of birds calling Maine home, there’s so much more to explore in this beautiful state.

Wild Bird Scoop has you covered as you get to know the state’s birds, including its numerous ducks, wrens, finches, blackbirds, owls, hawks, woodpeckers, and its lone hummingbird species.

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