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Number of species: 79

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Swamp Sparrow - Melospiza georgiana

Swamp Sparrow has a partial preformative molt, and limited prealternate molts that are largely restricted to feathers on the head. Most Swamp Sparrows can be aged by plumage characteristics. Adults can be sexed by both plumage and brood patch / cloacal protuberance during the breeding season, but sex can usually not be determined for Swamp Sparrows in formative or basic plumage.

Juvenile plumage is very similar to that of Song and Lincoln's Sparrows; Swamp Sparrow tends to have particularly short wings and can be identified by the combination of narrow malar stripes and yellowish upper mouth lining.

Quick tips

  • Look at the tail - uniformly narrow and pointed rectrices OR contrastingly fresh and broad central rectrices are indicative of FCF/FCA (HY/SY), while uniformly broad and more rounded rectrices are typical of DCB/DCA (AHY/ASY).
  • Look for molt limits on the wing - on FCF/FCA (HY/SY birds) there is a contrast between replaced greater coverts and the paler and more worn primary coverts, primaries, and secondaries; on DCB/DCA (AHY/ASY) birds the wing is more uniform with more extensive rusty edging to most feathers, but beware the pseudolimit between the greater coverts and adjacent tracts.
  • Examine the crown - in fall, FCF (HY) birds have little to no rufous, while DCB (AHY) birds have a substantial amount of rufous; in spring and summer (alternate plumage - DCA/FCA), males have a crown that is mostly to entirely rufous with limited streaking, while females generally have little to moderate rufous with more extensive streaking, but for those with intermediate patterns, sex should be determined based on the presence of a brood patch or cloacal protuberance.

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory (2016). Last updated by Marcel Gahbauer (Mar 2022)

The molt categories displayed below may be filtered by month.

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Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.

Individuals not in molt

FCJ - (HY: June - August)
Head relatively dark and indistinctly patterned; underparts coarsely streaked
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2351-14801-Melospiza_georgiana_AOU_7_52-1968.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2351-14801-Melospiza_georgiana_AOU_7_52-1970.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2351-14801-Melospiza_georgiana_AOU_7_52-1969.jpg
FCF - (HY: July - December; SY January - March)
Rectrices all narrow and pointed, or mixed with contrastingly fresh and broad central rectrices; primary coverts, primaries, and secondaries contrastingly paler than greater coverts; crown usually lacking rufous
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2321-00468-Melospiza_georgiana_AOU_7_52-1965.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2321-00468-Melospiza_georgiana_AOU_7_52-1967.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2321-00468-Melospiza_georgiana_AOU_7_52-1966.jpg
FCA - (SY: March - September)
Rectrices all narrow and pointed, or mixed with contrastingly fresh and broad central rectrices; primary coverts, primaries, and secondaries contrastingly paler than greater coverts; crown with no to little rufous (F) or mostly rufous (M)
No images available yet
DCB - (AHY: July - December; ASY January - March)
Rectrices uniformly broad and rounded; wing largely uniform in colour and wear, with secondaries and primary coverts only slightly lighter than greater coverts; crown with no to little rufous (F) or with notable amount of rufous (M)
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2351-40257-Melospiza_georgiana_AOU_7_52-1959.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2351-40257-Melospiza_georgiana_AOU_7_52-1961.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2351-40257-Melospiza_georgiana_AOU_7_52-1960.jpg
DCA - (ASY: March - September)
Rectrices uniformly broad and rounded; wing largely uniform in colour and wear, with secondaries and primary coverts only slightly lighter than greater coverts; crown with no to little rufous (F) or mostly rufous (M)
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2030-67549-Melospiza_georgiana_AOU_7_52-1962.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2030-67549-Melospiza_georgiana_AOU_7_52-1964.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2030-67549-Melospiza_georgiana_AOU_7_52-1963.jpg

Individuals in active molt

FPJ - (HY: June - August)
Similar to FCJ; some natal down remaining and/or juvenile flight feathers still growing in
No images available yet
FPF - (HY: July - October)
Similar to FCF; median and greater coverts and in some cases also tertials and central rectrices being replaced
No images available yet
FPA - (SY: February - April)
Similar to FCF; some head and body feathers being replaced
No images available yet
SPB - (SY: July - October)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained juvenile primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts distinctly pale brown and very worn; crown with no to little rufous (F) or mostly rufous (M)
No images available yet
DPB - (AHY: July - October)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts either distinctly adult (relatively dark, less worn) or intermediate; crown with no to little rufous (F) or mostly rufous (M)
No images available yet
DPA - (ASY: February - April)
Similar to DCB; some head and body feathers being replaced
No images available yet

Applicable unknown plumage/age classes

Molt classes Age Months Key traits
M-FPF / UPU (FPF, SPB, DPB) U July - October Undergoing preformative or prebasic molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCF / UCU (FCF, SCB, DCB) U/AHY July - March In formative or basic plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FPA / UPA (FPA, DPA) AHY February - April Undergoing prealternate molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCA / UCA (FCA, DCA) AHY March - September In alternate plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable

Number of species: 79

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