Florida Grasshopper Sparrow: Ammodramus savannarum
Florida grasshopper sparrows are small, short-tailed birds, about 5 inches long and weighing less than one ounce. While many species of sparrows are more drab, or cryptically colored, this sparrow is mostly black and gray with some brown streaks on the back. Underneath, it is light gray or buff color with no streaking.
Feathers at the bend of the wing are bright yellow and there is an orange patch in front of the eyes. A white stripe marks the top of the head. The male's primary song is soft and grasshopper-like, giving rise to the bird's common name.
Florida grasshopper sparrows are found in the prairies of south-central Florida in Osceola, Polk, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties. This non-migratory subspecies uses grasslands dominated by bunch grasses such as wiregrass and bluestem, with a patchy cover of low shrubs and saw palmetto. A breeding population of fifty pairs requires about 2,000 acres of treeless prairie. Declines in the range and population size of the Florida grasshopper sparrow since the early 1900s correspond to habitat loss due to prairie conversion to improved cattle pastures, sod production, and other agricultural uses and led to the species being designated as federally endangered in 1986
From late March to July, males sing from perches on shrubs and grasses to maintain their breeding territories. The primary song consists of two or three weak introductory notes followed by an insect like “buzz”. A less frequent secondary song is a sustained rambling warble. Adults are sedentary, using the same territory during successive years. Nests are made of grass and are dome shaped and are usually located in a slight depression in the ground, well-concealed by clumps of dwarf live oak, wire grass, or saw palmetto.
Image Credit: Dameron Black IV