Le Conte's sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii)

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Male Le Conte's sparrow singing
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Le Conte's sparrow fact file

Le Conte's sparrow description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyEmberizidae
GenusAmmodramus (1)

One of the most poorly known of North America’s grassland birds, Le Conte’s sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii) is notoriously difficult to study due to its secretive behaviour and cryptic plumage. This elusive species usually stays hidden in dense grass, skulking about on the ground, and dives into vegetation when disturbed rather than taking flight (2) (3) (4).

Le Conte’s sparrow is a small, chunky bird with short, rounded wings and a broad bill (2). The tail is almost as long as the wings and has extremely narrow and pointed feathers (3). This species has a buffy-orange face and chest, with black streaks along the sides and flanks and occasionally across the chest. The crown has a white stripe, and there is a pinkish patch at the back of the head, streaked with chestnut (2). There is also a bright buff eyebrow stripe, and the plumage is edged with white (3). The juvenile Le Conte’s sparrow is similar to the adult, but is buffier, with less distinct markings (2).

Size
Length: 12 cm (2)
Wingspan: 18 cm (2)
Weight
12 - 16 g (2)
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Le Conte's sparrow biology

As a result of the shy, elusive nature of Le Conte’s sparrow, very little is known about its biology and behaviour (3). However, it is thought to nest in May and June. The nest consists of a small, open cup of fine grasses, lined with grass and hair, and is placed on or just about the ground (2) (3). Usually, 4 or 5 eggs are laid, and are incubated for around 13 days (3).

Le Conte’s sparrow usually forages on the ground and in low vegetation, where it feeds on a variety of seeds and arthropods. It is thought to maintain territories using calls, which may also be used to attract a mate during the breeding season (3).

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Le Conte's sparrow range

Le Conte’s sparrow breeds in the prairies and grasslands of the extreme north-central U.S. and central and southern Canada. It also breeds in Ontario and Quebec, where it is patchily distributed (3).

A migratory species, Le Conte’s sparrow spends the winter in the southern U.S. from southern Illinois, central and southern Missouri, south-eastern Kansas, west-central Oklahhoma and west-central Texas, south to the Gulf Coast, and east to western Tennessee and western Florida. It may also winter in the lower Pecos River Valley of south-eastern New Mexico (3).

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Le Conte's sparrow habitat

Whilst breeding, Le Conte’s sparrow prefers open habitats and marshy meadows consisting of fine grasses and sedges. It may also be found around bogs and in low, damp parts of hayfields.

Within its winter range, Le Conte’s sparrow typically inhabits old fields and prairies with a dense covering of grasses and sedges (3).

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Le Conte's sparrow status

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

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Le Conte's sparrow threats

Le Conte’s sparrow is an elusive and secretive species that is rarely recorded during surveys, making accurate estimates of its population size difficult to obtain (3). However, its populations are thought to fluctuate, primarily as a result of changes in local environmental conditions (3) (5). For example, in North Dakota, numbers of Le Conte’s sparrow are highest during wet years, while in the northern Great Plains, numbers increased dramatically after an end to the drought conditions of 1990 to 1993 (3)

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Le Conte's sparrow conservation

The conservation measure most likely to benefit Le Conte’s sparrow is the protection and management of any grassland within its range. This management may involve man-made fire regimes, as this will stimulate the growth of tall grasses while decreasing the amount of woody encroachment, which will increase the nesting habitat of this species. As Le Conte’s sparrow breeds until at least early July, any disturbance should be delayed until mid July (3).

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Find out more

Find out more about Le Conte’s sparrow:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Arthropods
A very diverse phylum (a major grouping of animals) that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
Cryptic colouration
Colouration that makes animals difficult to detect against their background. The colouration may provide camouflage against a background or break up the outline of the body. Both can occur in a single animal, and tend to reduce predation.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Territory
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds - Le Conte’s sparrow (July, 2011)
    http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Le_Contes_Sparrow/
  3. Lowther, P.E. (2005) Le Conte’s sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii). In: Poole, A. (Ed.). The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
    http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/224/articles/
  4. U.S. Geological Survey - Le Conte's Sparrow: Ephemeral Jewel of the Northern Great Plains (July, 2011)
    http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/birds/lespar/sparrow.htm
  5. BirdLife International (July, 2011)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=8993
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Image credit

Male Le Conte's sparrow singing  
Male Le Conte's sparrow singing

© Don Delaney

Don Delaney
http://www.flickr.com/photos/donaldsducks/

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