Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)

Lincoln's Sparrow by Jack BartholmaiLincoln's Sparrow distribution map
Photo by Jack Bartholmai


Population Information

The Federal BBS information can be obtained at by clicking on Trend Estimates and selecting the species in question. All estimates are for time period (1966-2005).

Life History

Habitat Selection

Lincoln’s Sparrow chooses spruce and tamarack bogs, clearcuts near bogs, shrubby willows, or forest openings with dense shrubs. Nests are built on the ground, within grass tussocks or on moss, inside willow shrubs, using sedges and grass stems, willow bark (Ammon 1995). This species most often chooses spruce bog nest sites in northern Wisconsin, while willow shrub nest sites are more common in subalpine and mountain habitats in the western U.S. Ammon (1995) states that LISP is a “microhabitat specialist”, choosing wetter nest site locations than juncos nesting within the same general locations. Muskegs (bogs with scattered small black spruce) are frequently-used nesting choices for LISP in northern WI (Hoffman and Mossman 1993).

Habitat Availability

Lincoln ’s Sparrow is found nesting in Wisconsin in northern swamps and bogs, this habitat type covering an extent of 342,000 hectares (855,000 acres). A typical location with abundant nesting LISP is the Gobler Lake State Natural Area and adjacent muskeg in Oneida County (Hoffman and Mossman 1993). Lincoln’s Sparrow is found in other habitats in Wisconsin during migration, using especially areas of dense shrubs along fencerows, marshes, shrub carr and brushy pastures (Robbins 1991).

Population Concerns

Populations of Lincoln’s Sparrow across its geographic range are increasing slightly (see Population Information, above), with another increase in WI also noted on the Breeding Bird Survey. Robbins et al. (1996) state however that this species is not adequately assessed by the BBS in Wisconsin, (apparently since the habitat preferred by LISP is not often near roads). Some Canadian populations have experienced declines, especially in Quebec, in spruce-hardwood forest (Ammon 1995).

Recommended Management

Howe et al. (1992) list the LISP as an “area-sensitive” species, needing large blocks of habitat for maintaining viable populations. Protection of specific breeding habitat types (especially extensive areas of black spruce muskeg in Wisconsin) is the most effective likely management option for this species.

Research Needs

Much remains to be learned about Lincoln’s Sparrow ecology and biology. Especially needed are studies of reproductive success, physiology during the breeding season and during migration, mating systems, pair formation, the existence of “floater” males with a population, territoriality, and competition with congeneric sparrow species. Population losses in Quebec during the period 1982-1991 may demonstrate the need for protecting large blocks of shrub habitat within spruce-hardwood forest from extensive logging and disturbance – this needs further study (Ammon 1995).

Information Sources


Contact Information

Kreitinger, K., Y. Steele and A. Paulios, editors. 2013.
The Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0. Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

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