Savannah Sparrows With “Bugs” For Their Nestlings

Savannah Sparrows are incredibly efficient hunters while they’re feeding nestlings or fledglings.

  • These are older images but they’re all new to my blog.


1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

In July of 2011 I had a wonderful time with Savannah Sparrows at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife refuge. I could just stroll out of my camping trailer with my photo gear (including my tripod which I rarely use) and reliably find these classy little sparrows on the nearby fence.  Back then it was a wonderfully rustic and very old “buck and rail” fence surrounding the lower lake campground and the Savannah Sparrows were using it as a staging area to pursue insects that were obviously being fed to their youngsters (though I never did see a nest).

When most of these photos were taken the light was a little harsh but in softer light I absolute loved that old wood as a setting for these lovely little sparrows with their yellow “eyebrows” or supercilium.

In some areas of the fence there were many tall grasses or other obstructions that prevented “clean” shots of the birds but in this one I kind of liked the way the sparrow is framed by the three old wooden rails (despite the fact that two of the three rails are soft).



1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

A vertical crop of the same image gives us a different perspective on the setting (the gray-brown behind the bird is another out-of-focus fence rail).



1/800, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Much of the time these sparrows would have a variety of insects in their beaks which they’d eventually fly off with and deliver to their nestlings in the nearby and very tall grasses.



1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This is one of my rare “clean” shots of one of the sparrows with a grub of some kind in its beak.



1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

A few seconds later the same bird flew to the end of a different fence rail. This photo illustrates how tall the grasses were in many areas around the fence.



1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, canvas added for composition, not baited, set up or called in

Sometimes one of these sparrows would have enough insects of a huge variety in its bill to make the average entomologist have a giddy-fit. I often wondered how they were able to snag yet another insect without losing some of them already in their bill.

I lament the loss of this rustic old fence around the campground. Several years ago the refuge tore it down and replaced it with a very poor substitute. The newer fence is cheap, flimsy, unattractive and has absolutely no character.

The older I get the more I despise “progress”…




42 comments to Savannah Sparrows With “Bugs” For Their Nestlings

  • Progress? Cue hysterical laughter. I think that quite a lot of things wearing that label are retrograde steps. Sometimes retrograde gallops.
    I adore your LBJ of the day though. And of course, like so many of the subtle charmers, he/she isn’t entirely brown.

  • Stephen Clayson


    Nice shots again. I love the close-ups you provide but in this instance seeing all those bugs in the birds mouth is ruining my own appetite just before lunch. However, I can probably get it back. I am on my way to a wedding where the family asked me to bring my camera gear, “Just in case the photographer doesn’t show.” (A friend of the bride that wants to be a photographer.) I hope she shows. But if she doesn’t I’ll have more fun at the wedding!!


    • If it were me I’d take ANY diversion to make a wedding more fun, Stephen! 🙂

      • Patty Chadwick

        Going to a wedding…or the dentist…or a shopping mall…just can’t decide which one is worst……

        • Marty K

          Mall. Hands down. Wedding is a close second (unless you have a partner in crime who’ll go around the tables with you and eat the wedding mints or Jordan almonds in the candy dishes). 🙂

          • I am with Marty K. Though weddings and dentists are no fun either.

          • Laura Culley

            I seriously have not stepped foot in a mall in probably 30 years. They’re EVIL places. Haven’t been to a wedding in easily 40 years. Dentists aren’t my favorite people, either. It wasn’t THAT long ago that they were using leeches for pity’s sake! 🙂

      • Stephen Clayson

        I had not idea that my comment on weddings would spawn that must response. Some things are just universal!!


  • Marty K

    Lovely little birds! Thank you for giving another LBJ its due. The head-on shot is a true glamour pose. I marvel at their ability to collect multiple insects and at the same time am reminded of Aesop’s fable about the dog and his reflection.

    I’m with you on the frustration following certain “progress” — now get off my lawn! 😉 Our city has paved the way for a bunch of demolition, new construction, and fancy medians, but can’t be bothered to pave the roads leading to these places. Some of the potholes are real kidney-jarrers and the patches aren’t much better!


  • Patty Chadwick

    Love these shots of that perky little bird…and the always beautiful weathered wood. I agree with you about “progress”. Instead of moving forward toward something better, it seems to be the opposite…toward some thing lesser. I also agree with Rocky, about how birds (like sapsuckers with ants and Puffins with fish) can gather up and hold so many items of their catch without dropping some or all…..

    • Patty, As time goes on I like fewer and fewer of the trappings of “progress”. Yes, I’m glad we have modern medicine and dentistry, indoor plumbing, the internet and quite a few things like that. But the price we pay isn’t a small one…

  • Beautiful shots, Ron :-). I especially love the one where the blades of grass are in partial focus between the crisp bird and the green background. I also wonder how these little birds can catch so many insects in one little beak. Green metal posts with neon tops! Eek!

    • Those posts are glaring and disgusting in the landscape, Myriam. I understand their utility to ranchers but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.

  • Laura Culley

    Simply spectacular…outrageously so! Sadly, the last photo did not come through for me. Given that my Internet is iffy at best, I’m going to reload this post and hope it shows up then. I’ll just bet that shot is spectacular, too!
    And I’m right there with you on the issue of progress. We’ve lost so much sheer beauty in the pursuit of cheap, utilitarian and overall updating. I HATE that.
    Have a wonderful day!

    • Laura Culley

      Yep, second load worked and I was right–spectacular! Can that little bird fit any more meals in its beak? I think not! LOL! That shot made me giggle. Delighted that persistence paid off yet again 😉

    • I’m glad that one finally loaded for you, Laura. I have the same thing happen to me occasionally, for whatever reason…..?

      • Laura Culley

        I lump it all into stupid computer tricks. The other thing I hate is my computer will often delete most of what I’ve written here–don’t have a clue how that happens AND it’s not available to retrieve the text. GRRRRR! That’s why sometimes my post will be late. It takes time to write stuff and when it disappears into the ether, you have to recreate the paths of those brain cells. LOL!

        • Patty Chadwick

          My evil iPad does this to me, too. They tally do hate us..,,

          • Patty Chadwick

            See! I wrote “really”…i rest my case…

          • Laura Culley

            Electronics are EVIL! I just had to do three laps at the mechanic’s place chasing an intermittent electrical problem. We MIGHT have solved the problem, but we’ll see when this new battery runs down, or doesn’t. ARGH! What are people thinking putting computers in cars (and other important machines)? Seriously, what are they THINKING?

  • Jean Haley

    Last spring my Hubby and I were checking out wildflowers near the Lancaster Poppy Reserve. We stopped for a bit on the road, and I looked to my right. I spotted a Sparrow staring at me that I had never seen before. (Luckily I did get one picture before it flew off) The yellow in its head threw me. I found out it is a Savannah Sparrow. I was thrilled to find a new bird. New to me anyway. Nothing like a juicy worm! Nice pictures Ron!

    • I know that feeling of personally “discovering” this species, Jean. I remember my first time with them well – on our Montana family farm about ten years ago.

  • Dick Harlow

    These are fantastic shots Ron, clear, precise and close!
    These shots are the cleanest behavioral shots I have seen of a sparrow we see here every spring and fall. I would dearly love to have the chance to shoot some behavior shots of a Savannah Sparrow.
    My hats off to you!!

    • Dick, Interesting behavior shots of these guys are easier to come by during the nesting season. Too bad that it sounds like the only time you see them is during migration.

      • Dick Harlow

        Yes, it is weird. There is about 1K acres of field, meadow both wet and dry parts along with hay fields adjacent. You would think they would like that habitat, but not that I have observed.

  • Barby Anderson

    Lovely shots Ron, of a perky little bird! I wish it would come and eat my worms that are killing my petunias! 😢

  • That head-on shot is fabulous. I love the expression the eyebrows give.

  • Susan Stone

    Your comment wondering about how the Sparrow could cram more insects in it beak without losing any took me straight back to early childhood, when we used to go out in the evening and try to capture “lighting bugs”. My sister had a chiclets box minus the cellophane, and after she had a few in the box, inevitably one would escape when she was trying to add another. This is a great series of photos. Savannah Sparrows are indeed amazing hunters.

  • Jeffrey Tufts

    Great photos Ron ! One of my favorite species. Love the feather details.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Wonderful series Ron!

  • Judy Gusick

    Great shots, Ron. 🙂 One would wonder how they could hang onto what they had and catch more………. Even metal beats the “plastic” of many things out there now tho the old wood definitely is MUCH preferred.

    • Judy, Many old, classy and rustic wooden fence posts around here have recently been replaced with new green metal posts with neon tops. On one level I can understand the need for fences effective in containing livestock but on the other hand those new posts are real eyesores.

      Add the shiny new barbed wire to the mix and I’m in mourning…