Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)

Swamp Sparrow by Jack BartholmaiSwamp Sparrow distribution map


Population Information

The Federal BBS information can be obtained at http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/bbs.html by clicking on Trend Estimates and selecting the species in question. All estimates are for time period (1966-2005).

Life History

Habitat Selection

Swamp Sparrows occur in a wide variety of wetland habitats including cattail marshes, shrubby wetlands, sedge meadows, and open wooded swamps (Schultz 2006). In the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Swamp Sparrows have been detected in alder, pole-size black spruce-tamarack, and regenerating hardwood stands (Danz et al. 2007). Within these habitats, plant structure (Benoit and Askins 2002) and the presence of water appear to be important habitat requirements. Shallow standing water may be important for foraging (Mowbray 1997). A study conducted in Connecticut suggested that Swamp Sparrows are not area-sensitive (Benoit and Askins 2002) but further studies are needed to verify this elsewhere in their range. Nests are typically <1 meter in height and located above ground or over shallow water (Mowbray 1997, K. Coates, pers. comm.).

Habitat Availability

Prior to Euro-American settlement, wetlands occupied an estimated four million hectares of the total fourteen million hectares of Wisconsin’s land area. Today, 2.1 million hectares (53%) of these wetland habitats remain, mostly in the northern third of the state. Strict wetland use regulations and incentive programs designed to restore or enhance wetlands have helped to curb habitat loss and protect existing wetlands (WDNR 1995). Agricultural drainage and urban development remain threats to wetland ecosystems and local populations of wetland-associated birds. Human activities that alter hydrology and introduce invasive plant species also threaten wetland habitats (WDNR 2003).

Population Concerns

Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data suggest that Swamp Sparrow populations are increasing range-wide and in Wisconsin (Sauer et al. 2005). They are common to fairly common summer residents throughout the state, and during the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas (1995-2000), observers confirmed breeding activity in 31% of the surveyed quads (Schultz 2006).

Continued loss and alteration of wetland habitats remains a threat to this species. Because Swamp Sparrows commonly place their nests over water, fluctuations in water levels may flood nests and impact reproductive success in floodplain-associated wetlands (Mowbray 1997).

Recommended Management

Preservation of expansive wetlands should be a primary management strategy. The continuation of wetland management, protection, and restoration efforts such as the Wetland Reserve Program, Partner for Fish and Wildlife program, and North American Wetland Conservation Act will benefit this species. Management efforts directed at waterfowl and other wetland-associated species also should benefit Swamp Sparrows (Mowbray 1997).

Research Needs

Population densities are needed from a broad geographic area and wide range of habitats. Further study on habitat selection would help guide future management efforts. More research on non-breeding populations (e.g., general food habits, competition for resources, social structure) is needed (Mowbray 1997).

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.

Website by J Davis Web Design