Ammospiza nelsoni nelsoni

Status:  Rare regular spring migrant east, rare casual central. Uncommon regular fall migrant east, rare casual central, accidental west.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM7335, 8 Oct 1904 Lincoln, Lancaster Co (Wolcott 1905).

Taxonomy:  This species and LeConte’s Sparrow were moved from Ammodramus to the new genus Ammospiza based on genetic studies that indicated former Ammodramus was paraphyletic (Chesser et al 2018).

Three subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997): nelsoni, breeding from British Columbia to Northwest Territories south to southern Manitoba and northeast South Dakota, wintering in coastal California and coastal Texas to South Carolina, alterus, breeding from Ontario to Quebec, wintering coastal Louisiana to New York, and subvirgatus, breeding from coastal Quebec to central Maine, wintering coastal New York to Florida. Nebraska birds are presumed nelsoni (Rapp et al 1958, Johnston 1965).

Spring:  May 13, 13, 15 <<<>>> May 29, 30, 30

Earlier dates are 24 Apr 2013 Lancaster Co, and 24 Apr 2015 Saunders Co.

Last dates above include a singing male at Valentine NWR Cherry Co 29 May 2006 (Silcock 2006), and two specimens, UNSM ZM10734 and ZM10735, collected 30 May 1910 in Lancaster Co (Zimmer 1911).

There are no reports for summer; birds netted at Keystone Lake, Keith Co in summer 1994 and identified as Nelson’s Sparrows are now believed to have been Grasshopper Sparrows (Brown et al 2012).

  • High counts:  13 at Spikerush WMA, York Co 13 May 2005.

Fall: Sep 27, 27, 28  <<<>>> Oct 24, 24, 26

Earlier dates are 7 Sep 1973 Sheridan Co (Rosche 1982), 9 Sep 1934 Cass Co (specimen, Hudson 1934), 16-17 Sep 2013 Lancaster Co, and 25 Sep 2007 Douglas Co.

Later dates are 29 Oct 1995 Lancaster Co, 1 Nov 2013 Sarpy Co, four on 7 Nov 1999 Sandpiper (North Hultine) WMA, Clay Co, 12 Nov 2016 Prairie Queen Lake RA, Sarpy Co, and 27 Nov 2020 Fillmore Co.

This species has been reported more often in fall than in spring in recent years.

One taken 8 Oct 1904 at Lincoln, cited above, was considered the first state record (Wolcott 1905).

Westernmost reports are 7 Sep 1973 Sheridan Co (Rosche 1982; Williams 1974), 27 Sep 2009 Cherry Co, 5 Oct 1985 Blaine Co (Williams 1986), 6 Oct 1991 Knox Co (Grzybowski 1992), 10 Oct 2010 Antelope Co, and 14 Oct 1994 Gosper Co (Silcock 1994). The Sheridan Co report is the only one for the Panhandle.

  • High counts:  36 at Jack Sinn WMA, Saunders Co 16 Sep 2007, 15 at Little Salt Fork Marsh, Lancaster Co 8 Oct 2014, and 9 at Harvard WPA 16 Oct 1996 (Jorgensen 2012).


NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
RA: Recreation Area
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)
WPA: Waterfowl Production Area (Federal)

Literature Cited

Brown, M.B., S.J. Dinsmore, and C.R. Brown. 2012. Birds of Southwestern Nebraska. Conservation and Survey Division, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska—Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Chesser, R.T., K.J. Burns, C. Cicero, J.L. Dunn, A.W. Kratter, I.J. Lovette, P.C. Rasmussen, J. V. Remsen, Jr., D.F. Stotz, B.M. Winger, and K. Winker. 2018. Fifty-ninth Supplement to the American Ornithological Society’s Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 135: 798-813.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1992. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 46: 113-117.

Hudson, G.E. 1934. The fourth taking of the Nelson Sharp-Tailed Sparrow in Nebraska. NBR 2: 120.

Johnston, R.F. 1965. A directory to the birds of Kansas. Miscellaneous Publication No. 41.  University of Kansas Museum of Natural History, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

Jorgensen, J.G. 2012.  Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska.  Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rapp, W.F. Jr., J.L.C. Rapp, H.E. Baumgarten, and R.A. Moser. 1958. Revised checklist of Nebraska birds. Occasional Papers 5, Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union, Crete, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Silcock, W.R. 1994. Fall Field Report, August-November 1994. NBR 62: 126-149.

Silcock, W.R. 2006. Spring Field report, March-May 2006. NBR 74: 38-60.

Williams, F. 1974. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 28: 70-76.

Williams, F. 1986. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 40: 134-138.

Wolcott, R.H. 1905. Nelson’s Sparrow in Nebraska. Auk 22: 210.

Zimmer, J.T. 1911. Some results of four years’ observation and collecting chiefly in the vicinity of Lincoln.  Proceedings Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union 5: 34-37.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  Nelson’s Sparrow (Ammodramus nelsoni). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 22 Mar 2021