Project Prairie Birds

A Citizen Science Project for Wintering Grassland Birds

Selected Grassland Species in A.O.U. Check-list Order


Long Prairie Grasses

Notice: Photos are copyrighted and not available for use without express written permission of Michael L. Gray at mlgray@ppco.com.


Photo of Bobwhite, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Northern bobwhite
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus)
Alpha code: NOBO

A plump, large-bodied bird with short tail and mottled reddish-brown upperparts. Feeds in large groups (coveys) and when flushed, the group rises straight up with loud rattling wing beats. Flies only a short distance before quickly seeking shelter in high grass or brambles. Common in fields with some brush and weeds.


Photo of Horned Lark, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Horned lark
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Horned lark (Eremophila alpestris)
Alpha code: HOLA

Note black tail with white outer edges. Plain brown upperparts, distinctive pattern of black, white and yellow on face. Usually in groups and very rarely seen singly. Prefers bare ground or mudflats, but also occurs in short, grazed pastures.


Photo of House Wren, Photo Courtesy Dawn & Ross Carrie

House wren
Photo Courtesy Dawn & Ross Carrie

House wren (Troglodytes aedon)
Alpha code: HOWR

Drab, plain brown wren with faint eyebrow. Tail often cocked. Found in thickets and brushy patches. Unlikely to fly from brush into grass when flushed; prefers to stay in thick brushy cover. Call is a harsh, thick, buzzy scold-note.


Photo of Sedge Wren, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Sedge wren
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Sedge wren (Cistothorus platensis)
Alpha code: SEWR

Small short-tailed warm-brown wren. Almost always vocalizes just prior to and/or in flight, giving a short, slurred chick-chick call. Weak flight for short distances just above grass level, often crashing into grass/shrub clumps. Appears fairly dark above with buffy-brown flanks. Prefers moist grasslands.


Photo of American Pipit, Copyright Michael L. Gray

American pipit
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

American pipit (Anthus rubescens)
Alpha code: AMPI

Note long black tail with white outer tail feathers. Upperparts uniformly grayish-brown with no distinguishing streaks, marks or wing bars. Often pumps tail if perched. Commonly found in sparsely vegetated wet or dry fields. Usually found in flocks (two to hundreds of individuals occurring together). Usually says its name softly “pipit, pipit” in flight.


Photo of Sprague's Pipit, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Sprague's pipit
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Sprague's pipit (Anthus spragueii)
Alpha code: SPPI

Has a dark tail and white outer tail feathers, but distinguished from the above by shorter tail and by buffy-brown upperparts that have a scaly look and a streaked rump sometimes visible when flushed. This species has a prominent dark eye, more white in tail than the above and does not pump tail. When flushed, it flies high into the air in a “stair-stepping” fashion (unlike AMPI), spirals and then drops down like a falling rock back into the field. Calls when flushed from dry field edges and prefers bare to mostly bare ground. A non-flocking pipit, unlike the above; mostly solitary.


Photo of Bachman's Sparrow, Photo Courtesy Cliff Chackelford

Bachman's sparrow
Photo Courtesy Cliff Shackelford

Bachman's sparrow (Aimophila aestivalis)
Alpha code: BACS

Large rich cinnamon-colored sparrow. More likely to flush well before observer is on top of bird. Strong flier that usually flies long distances a few feet off the ground landing back in the grass. A non-flocking Pineywoods specialty.


Photo of Chipping Sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Chipping sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina)
Alpha code: CHSP

A small, but long-tailed sparrow that occurs in flocks. Adults have a chestnut cap and a white eye brow. Young birds are streaked, but usually occur in the same flock as adults. A widespread generalist in winter; found in fields or forests; occurs at ground level or in canopy; attracted to urban settings (seed feeders) or far from human habitation.


Photo of Field Sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Field sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Field sparrow (Spizella Pusilla)
Alpha code: FISP

A small, pale, flocking sparrow that occurs in weedy fields. Pale eye ring, white wing bars and bright pink bill separate this species from its relatives. Has a longish tail relative to its body.


Photo of Savannah Sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Savanna sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)
Alpha code: SAVS

Likely the most abundant and widespread wintering sparrow in the more short, sparse grassy conditions. Does not wait for a close approach before flushing. Heavily streaked all over, this sparrow has a small pinkish to flesh-colored bill and pink legs. Most individuals sport yellow lores. Sometimes perches off the ground where it’s visible after flushing, but flies fairly far on initial flush.


Photo of Grasshopper Sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Grasshopper sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum)
Alpha code: GRSP

A rich, buffy sparrow that flushes from tall grass. Like most members of the genus, this species waits until closely approached until flushing; would rather flee by running on ground than by flying. Variable in appearance, most individuals are buffy below with some streaking or flecking on the breast. When perched, look for an even richer brown-buff in the lores and forehead.


Photo of Henslow's Sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Henslow's sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Henslow's sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii)
Alpha code: HESP

Small dark rust-colored sparrow with an olive-yellow head. Reluctantly flushes only when observer is directly on top of bird. Weak flight just above grass level for short distances and often twists in flight just before crashing back into the grass or small shrub. Often pumps tail in flight.


Photo of Le Conte's Sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Le Conte's sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Le Conte's sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii)
Alpha code: LCSP

This “golden sparrow” appears very buffy-yellow overall. Small short-tailed sparrow with a light-to-rich gold head, a light-brown back and a light, pale belly. Often flies short distances just above grass level like other members of the genus, but may fly longer distances than HESP, but not necessarily as long as GRSP (all three can be found together in winter in the same grasslands).


Photo of Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow (Ammodramus nelsoni)
Alpha code: NSTS

A dark yet colorful sparrow with buffy-orange facial marks; in fresh plumage, can be the most spectacular species of sparrow in North America. On the wintering grounds, it prefers areas with standing (very salty) brackish water with tall grass and reeds.


Photo of Seaside Sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Seaside sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Seaside sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus)
Alpha code: SESP

This very dark sparrow has a very flat-headed and large-billed appearance; resident in areas with standing (very salty) brackish water with short to medium bunch grasses like Spartina species. Most individuals have a fairly bright yellow lore. After flushing, they will typically perch up on grass blades and look around. Flies straight with rapid, shallow wingbeats. Not found far from the coast.


Photo of Song Sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Song sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Alpha code: SOSP

Large, dark sparrow; pumps long rounded tail in flight. Breast heavily streaked with dark breast spot and thick malar streaks. Call is a loud, frequently uttered chimp. Generally associated with at least some brushy/shrubby cover, or at least patches of thick, rank grass.


Photo of Lincoln's Sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Lincoln's sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Lincoln's sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)
Alpha code: LISP

Relatively drab-looking in flight, but may appear slightly buffy. Wings and upperparts brownish, face with wide gray eyebrow. Breast buffy with fine streaks. Utters thick, heavy tick or thick call when disturbed, as well as a raspy zeee that is louder than SWSP. Occurs in shrubby cover, including patches of brush in otherwise grassy or weedy habitats.


Photo of Swamp Sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Swamp sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Swamp sparrow (Melospiza georgina)
Alpha code: SWSP

Gray face, bright rusty wings and upperparts, lightly streaked breast. Pumps tail in flight. Calls are a sharp chip and a high-pitched seee or zeee. May be found in pure grass or associated areas with shrubs. Usually does not allow a close approach. Named for its fondness of wet, grassy, often mucky areas.


Photo of White-throated Sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

White-throated sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

White-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)
Alpha code: WTSP

A large, thicket-loving sparrow with rich, rusty-brown streaked upperparts, gray-brown rump and long rounded tail; poorly defined wing bars and prominent white throat. Also distinctive is the streaked crown and yellow lore of adults. First winter birds are dingy and “washed out” looking with a pale white throat and heavy streaking on breast. Often flock with other thicket species in winter when they can be heard calling/singing (i.e., a loud whistle) frequently from a dense, wet thicket or field border. Usually does not occur away from the ground under shrubs, woodlands or dense thickets. Not considered a grassland species.


Photo of Western Meadowlark, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Western meadowlark
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

The complex of:
Eastern meadowlark (Sturnella Magna)
Alpha code: EAME,
Western meadowlark (Sturnella Neglecta)
Alpha code: WEME
Alpha code: MEAD

NOTE: the two meadowlarks in winter are very difficult to distinguish when not vocalizing. Numerous flocks of WEME move eastward in winter in Texas (and beyond) and occur in close proximity to EAME. It is recommended that meadowlark, species (Alpha code: MEAD) be used if species identification is not made, especially when a bird is flushed from the ground and seen briefly in flight. Do not assume that it’s an EAME just because you’re in the “eastern” part of the U.S., especially Texas. Not determining this group to the species level is totally acceptable. These are large-bodied birds with dark brown upperparts with a reddish tinge and distinctive white outer tail feathers. When flushed, flight is labored, low and of short distance with stiff glides, almost reminiscent of NOBO but with prominent white flashes in outer tail. Commonly found in pastures, agricultural fields and wet prairies. Usually in flocks, sometimes small or even large.


Photo of Killdeer, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Killdeer (KILL)
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Photo of Wilson's snipe, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Wilson's snipe (WISN)
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray


Photo of Marsh Wren, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Marsh wren (MAWR)
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Photo of Loggerhead Shrike, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Loggerhead shrike (LOSH)
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray


Photo of Common grackle, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Common grackle (COGR)
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Photo of Lark sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Lark sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray


Photo of White-crowned sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

White-crowned sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Photo of Fox sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Fox Sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray


Photo of Common Yellowthroat, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Common yellowthroat
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Photo of Short-eared owl, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Short-eared owl
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray


Photo of American robin, Copyright Michael L. Gray

American robin (AMRO)
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Photo of Yellow-rumped warbler, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Yellow-rumped warbler (YRWA)
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray


Photo of Botteri's sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Botteri's sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray

Photo of Cassin's sparrow, Copyright Michael L. Gray

Cassin's sparrow
Photo Copyright Michael L. Gray



For a complete list of alpha codes, see: the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Complete Species List.

For Additional Information write to:

Project Prairie Birds Program
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
or send a message to: nature@tpwd.state.tx.us

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