Ammodramus bairdiiBaird's sparrow

Geographic Range

Most populations of the Baird's sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii) are endemic to the tall grasslands of the North American Great Plains during the seasons of the spring and summer. Specifically, they are located in North Dakota, South Dakota, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and southern Manitoba (Stephen and Sealy, 1998). There are few populations are found in Montana and Minnesota (Wiggins, 2006).

During the fall season they migrate to their wintering grounds. The majority of Baird's sparrows wintering grounds are located in the short grasslands of Northern Mexico, and the Southern United States (i.e. Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico)(Ahlering, Johnson, and Faaborg, 2009). (Ahlering, et al., 2009; Stephen and Sealy, 1998; Wiggins, 2006)


Ammodramus bairdii during the spring and summer months prefer to live in the terrestrial North American Great Plains. Here they tend to be found living in the tuft tall temperate grasses adjacent to shrub communities. Due to increasing habitat fragmentation and the conversion of grassland to agricultural lands the Baird's sparrows have been found to live in seeded pastures, croplands, and hay lands (Stephen and Sealy, 1998). The elevations of these grasslands that they live in, for both warm and cold months, tend to be in the ranges of 1200 to 2000 meters (BirdLife International, 2016). Their wintering habitats are of shorter less dense temperate grassland communities. The reason for the change in preference from tall to short grasslands is that short grasslands in the winter have more abundance in seeds and there is an easier accessibility to forage for them (Stephen and Sealy, 1998). (BirdLife International, 2016; Stephen and Sealy, 1998)

  • Range elevation
    1200 to 2000 m
    3937.01 to 6561.68 ft

Physical Description

Baird's sparrows are light brown, streaked with a yellow-brown, and with subtle black markings on face. The heads are flat with a large bill, and a short forked tail. They have a broad ochre central crown stripe, and narrow band of black streaks across the white breasted chest. There is no sexual dimorphism. Both sexes tend to weigh between 17 to 21 g, and have an average length of 12 cm. Wingspans typically average 23 cm in length. Juveniles are similar in appearance to adults, except they are more heavily streaked("Baird's Sparrow", 2015). ("Baird's Sparrow", 2015)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    17 to 21 g
    0.60 to 0.74 oz
  • Average length
    12 cm
    4.72 in
  • Average wingspan
    23 cm
    9.06 in


Most Baird's sparrows have monogamous pairings during the breeding season, although some males with large territories will be polygynous. The monogamous pairs stay together for one year, although there is no information on a year-to-year pair bond due to very few individuals return to breed at the same site. In the early breeding season males will arrive to the breeding grounds before the females, and begin to create their territories. When the females arrive males will begin to preform courtship behavior, where they will sing from their highest perch in their territory to lure in a mate. They will also fly between the boundaries of their territory to emphasize its size to attract females (Wiggins, 2006).

Sexual maturity begins at one year of age for both sexes. When pairs are formed and copulation is complete, females will then lay between 3 to 6 eggs in a nest. Nests are located on the ground among the grasses in deep depressions with no overhead concealment. They are made of grasses, stems, leaves on the outside, and inner is lined with narrow leaf grasses and rootlets. The nests dimensions are 6.2 cm in diameter and 4.6 cm in depth (Stephen and Sealy, 1998). Eggs are a grayish white with brown spots and blotches ("Baird's Sparrow", 2015). Incubation of the eggs typically last for 11 to 12 days before hatching. Young are fledged and independent at 8 to 11 days of age, although they are still unable to fly for a week or two (Wiggins, 2006). ("Baird's Sparrow", 2015; Stephen and Sealy, 1998; Wiggins, 2006)

  • Breeding interval
    The Baird's sparrow produce one brood in a year, although it has been recorded that few will produce two (Wiggins, 2006).
  • Breeding season
    One to possibly two clutches tend to be laid between May 29th to July 31st.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 6
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    11 to 12 days
  • Range fledging age
    8 to 11 days
  • Range time to independence
    8 to 11 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

For the majority that are monogamous, both sexes protect and care for the nest once eggs are laid to when they have been fledged to independence. This typically takes roughly 19 to 23 days. Parents typically brood (feed) young for three minute intervals multiple times throughout the day. In the first 15 days females tend to do most of the feeding for the young, and the last couple of days the male does the feeding until the young is fledged . To deter predators from the nest males and females do not feed each other at the nest, but rather at a location away from the nest site. Protection is limited to mainly secrecy of the nest location from predators, and if the nest is predated on the parents will most likely abandon instead of fight. If it is early in the breeding season parents will try a second brood if the first is abandoned (Wiggins, 2006). (Wiggins, 2006)


There is limited information on the Baird's sparrows lifespan do to the fact that banded birds do not return to the same spring location. Although, it has been cited that they typically live to 4.5 years on average in the wild. If one compares the Baird's sparrow with the congeneric grasshopper sparrow that live 3 years on average, then their generation time is likely to be 2-3 years. Mortality is predicted to be very high due to the records from the genus, although yearly survival data is not known due to the problem with banding. Mortality is typically from predation and stoichastic events (COSEWIC, 2012). ("COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Baird’s Sparrow Ammodramus bairdii in Canada", 2012)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    4.5 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 3 years


The majority of the Baird's sparrows life is solitary, except during the breeding season and when migrating to the wintering grounds. These sparrows are diurnal, typically are flying throughout their territories foraging for food in the early morning. In the spring and summer, males hold territories of 0.012-0.015 km^2, although in congested habitats males can only hold territories of 0.004 to 0.008 km^2. Males will constantly be guarding their territories from opposing competitive males, by making calls to ward competitors, and some instances will attack competitive males that enter the territory. Females do not hold territories as they are allowed to be in any males territory, but mostly stay in their partners. In the wintering grounds, the males are no longer territorial in the southern grasslands as their is abundance in food and no competition for mating (Wiggins, 2006). (Wiggins, 2006)

  • Range territory size
    0.004 to 0.015 km^2

Home Range

The Baird's sparrow is a migratory bird that is specialized to live in the north and south prairie grasslands of North America (Ahlering, Johnson, and Faaborg, 2009). Migration takes place with many birds flying in high altitude at night through the Midwest during late fall (Wiggins, 2006). (Ahlering, et al., 2009; Wiggins, 2006)

Communication and Perception

Characteristics to most vertebrates, Baird's sparrows have the senses of visual perception and tactile sensation. There has been no study on the Baird's sparrows' olfactory abilities. Communication is directed to be performed by males acoustics within their territory to deter rival males from entering, and attract females to enter. Females can make calls, although the reasons are speculative (Wiggins, 2006). (Wiggins, 2006)

Food Habits

The Baird's sparrow is an omnivorous forager to the grasslands, where the type of food it eats depends on the times of the season. During the early spring and early fall, they are granivores for the spring and fall annuals' seeds such as lamb's quarters, Russian pigweed, and mustard. In the warm summer seasons they are insectivores, vermivores, and consume other arthropods such as spiders and isopods. These sparrows prefer these high protein food source as it is a better food source for their offspring, and is in high abundance during these times. Also, they need the high protein sources as they need to store more fat, so that they have the energy to migrate in late fall. In the wintering grounds they will consume some invertebrates, and also the annuals' seeds such as sorghum, green brislegrass, ragweed, and bomegrass (Wiggins, 2006). (Wiggins, 2006)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


Nest predation by mammals is common within the species due to their ground nests being easily accessible for striped skunks and thirteen-lined ground squirrels. Adults are predated by avian predators such as the northern harrier, and to avoid predation the sparrows will not fly away but will run on the ground through the tall grasses of the prairie to escape (Stephen and Sealy, 1998). (Stephen and Sealy, 1998)

  • Known Predators
    • striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis)
    • thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus)

Ecosystem Roles

Baird's sparrow and other birds of genus Ammodramus role in the ecosystem community is that they disperse seeds from feeding, pollinate grasses, and control populations of invertebrates by consumption (Kumaresan et al., 2014). Nests are subjected to nest parasitism by the Brown-head cowbird, where the females lay eggs within the Bard's sparrow nests, and tricks the bird to raising the cowbirds young. Nest parasitism effects 36% of the sparrows nests, and costs 1.1 fledged sparrow per parasitized nest (Stephen and Sealy, 1998). (Kumaresan, et al., 2014; Stephen and Sealy, 1998)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
  • pollinates
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The genus Ammodramus and other birds in the order Passeriformes are great pest control agents. As an example when New York City Park was overrun by inch worms destroying the foliage of the trees, the solution was to place sparrows, which resulted in the sparrows limiting and controlling the inch worm population. Some sparrows are good pollinators of herbaceous plants and can help pollinate crops by carrying pollen on the body and moving from perch to perch. Ecotourism is through bird watching of this species (Kumaresan et al., 2014). (Kumaresan, et al., 2014)

  • Positive Impacts
  • ecotourism
  • pollinates crops
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Due to the loss of habitat some populations of Baird's sparrows have translocated to agricultural cropland, haylands, and pastures. In these locations they do feed on crops, but because their populations in these locations are low the cost from crops lost is minimal or insignificant (Stephen and Sealy, 1998). (Stephen and Sealy, 1998)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Under the IUCN Red list Amodramus bairdii is listed as least concern (Baird's Sparrow", 2015), and under the United States Migratory Bird Treat Act the Baird's sparrow is listed as protected. They are also listed as threatened in the states of New Mexico and Montana, and endangered in Minnesota (Wiggins, 2006). ("Baird's Sparrow", 2015; Wiggins, 2006)


John Kauphusman (author), Minnesota State University Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


a distribution that more or less circles the Arctic, so occurring in both the Nearctic and Palearctic biogeographic regions.

World Map

Found in northern North America and northern Europe or Asia.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


2015. "Baird's Sparrow" (On-line). TheCornellLab of Ornithology All About Birds. Accessed October 09, 2017 at

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Baird’s Sparrow Ammodramus bairdii in Canada. CW69-14/22-2012E-PDF. 978-1-100-20703-2: Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. 2012.

Ahlering, M., D. Johnson, J. Faaborg. 2009. Factors Associated with Arrival Densities of Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) and Baird's Sparrow (A. bairdii) in the Upper Great Plains. The Auk, Vol. 126/ No. 4: 799-808.

BirdLife International, 2016. "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed October 26, 2017 at

Kumaresan, A., T. Benickson, D. Geethu, A. Kavipriya, R. Mithun, S. Mithun. 2014. The House Sparrow is Homeless: A Small Attempt to Conservation. Biodiversity & Endangered Species, Vol 2/ No: 2: 1-4. Accessed October 10, 2017 at DOI: 10.4172/2332-2543.1000124.

Stephen, D., S. Sealy. 1998. Nesting Biology of the Baird's Sparrow in Southwestern Manitoba. The Wilson Bulletin, Vol. 110/ Issue. 2: 262-270.

Wiggins, D. 2006. Baird’s Sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii): a technical conservation assessment. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, N.a.: 1-36. Accessed October 09, 2017 at bairdssparrow.pdf.