Le Contes Sparrow

Ammodramus leconteii
Le Conte's Sparrow

Le Conte's Sparrow is a beautiful but secretive sparrow that is a regular, but rare winter resident in Tennessee. It is found in grassy, weedy fields, especially fields with Panicum grass, and when persistently flushed by an observer, it will run along the ground and eventually hop up on an exposed perch for a moment. 

It breeds in central Canada and adjoining northern states, and winters in the southern states from South Carolina to Texas. This bird is so elusive even on the breeding grounds that it took nearly 100 years for its nest to be discovered.

Description: The Le Conte's Sparrow is distinct with, as sparrows go, with a buffy-orange face and chest, a white crown-stripe, chestnut streaks on the back of the neck, and black streaks on the sides, which occasionally across the chest. The male and female look the same.

Length: 5"
Wingspan: 6.5"
Weight: 0.45 oz.

Similar Species:

  • Henslow's Sparrow is similar but has a greenish face and a white eye-ring. Henslow's Sparrows are found in scattered locations in Tennessee in the spring and summer.
  • Grasshopper Sparrows have a flat head, a narrow white eye-ring, and no streaking on the sides. Grasshopper Sparrows are found in Tennessee in the spring and summer.

Habitat: In Tennessee, Le Conte's Sparrow is typically found in wet grassy and weedy fields and marshes, especially fields with Panicum Grass. Occasionally seen along forest edges.

Diet: Seeds, especially Panicum grass seeds, and insects.

Nesting and reproduction: Le Conte's Sparrow has never been known to nest in Tennessee.

Status in Tennessee: This sparrow is an uncommon migrant and rare winter resident in the state, arriving in mid-October and departing by mid-April. Most winter records are from Middle and West Tennessee. Range-wide population trends are difficult to assess but may be declining due to loss of native grassland habitats.

Dynamic map of Le Conte's Sparrow eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • John James Audubon named this bird after a Doctor John LeConte. Most believe he meant the entomologist John Lawrence LeConte (1825-1883), a prominent entomologist and the foremost authority on North American Beetles during his lifetime, but it could have been his cousin, the chemist, and physicist John LeConte.
  • The Le Conte's Sparrow is so secretive on the breeding grounds that it was nearly 100 years after it was first described in 1790, that the first nest was found.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Moist or wet brushy and weedy fields with Panicum Grass, also hedgerows and wooded edges during the winter in Middle and West Tennessee.