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Chipping Sparrow

Spizella passerina ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A crisp, pretty sparrow whose bright rufous cap both provides a splash of color and makes adults fairly easy to identify. Chipping Sparrows are common across North America wherever trees are interspersed with grassy openings. Their loud, trilling songs are one of the most common sounds of spring woodlands and suburbs.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
4.7–5.9 in
12–15 cm
Wingspan
8.3 in
21 cm
Weight
0.4–0.6 oz
11–16 g
Relative Size
Smaller, trimmer, and shorter tailed than a Song Sparrow; slightly larger than a chickadee.
Other Names
  • Gorrión ceja blanca, Chimbito comun (Spanish)
  • Bruant familier, Pinson familier (French)

Cool Facts

  • The early naturalists had a gift for description you just don’t see anymore. In 1929, Edward Forbush called the Chipping Sparrow “the little brown-capped pensioner of the dooryard and lawn, that comes about farmhouse doors to glean crumbs shaken from the tablecloth by thrifty housewives.”
  • In much of the West, Chipping Sparrows disperse shortly after breeding to move to areas with better food resources. It's not unusual to see Chipping Sparrows on alpine tundra or along roadsides in open grasslands. This results in the common misperception that they bred in those areas, when really they simply moved there to molt.
  • Chipping Sparrows typically build their nests low in a shrub or tree, but every once in a while they get creative. People have found their nests among hanging strands of chili peppers, on an old-fashioned mower inside a tool shed, and on a hanging basket filled with moss.
  • The nest of the Chipping Sparrow is of such flimsy construction that light can be seen through it. It probably provides little insulation for the eggs and young.
  • The oldest known Chipping Sparrow was 11 years, 10 months old.

Habitat


Open Woodland

You’ll find Chipping Sparrows around trees, even though these birds spend a lot of time foraging on the ground. Look for them in grassy forests, woodlands and edges, parks and shrubby or tree-lined backyards. Chipping Sparrows seem to gravitate toward evergreens in places where these trees are available. They also use aspen, birch, oak, pecan, and eucalyptus trees. In the mountains, you can find these birds all the way up to treeline.

Food


Seeds

Chipping Sparrows mainly eat seeds of a great variety of grasses and herbs. During the breeding season they also hunt for protein-rich insects, and these form a large part of their summer diet. Chipping Sparrows sometimes eat small fruits such as cherries.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–7 eggs
Number of Broods
1-3 broods
Egg Length
0.6–0.8 in
1.5–2 cm
Egg Width
0.4–0.6 in
1.1–1.5 cm
Incubation Period
10–15 days
Nestling Period
9–12 days
Egg Description
Pale blue to white, lightly streaked or spotted with black, brown, or purplish.
Condition at Hatching
Naked, helpless, eyes closed, with a few wispy down feathers on the head and body. New hatchlings weigh about one-twentieth of an ounce.
Nest Description

Males guard females as they build nests, but they don’t help build. It takes the female 3 to 4 days to finish her nest, a loose cup of rootlets and dried grasses so flimsy you can often see through it. She lines the nest with animal hair and fine plant fibers. Finished nests measure about 4.5 inches across and 2.2 inches deep.

Nest Placement

Shrub

Females typically build their nests between 3 and 10 feet off the ground, hidden in foliage at the tip of a branch. They gravitate toward evergreen trees, but also nest in crabapples, honeysuckle tangles, maples, ornamental shrubs, and other deciduous species. Females can be finicky about placement, often beginning to build a nest, then leaving to begin in another spot.

Chipping Sparrow Nest Image 1
© René Corado / WFVZ

Chipping Sparrow Nest Image 2
© René Corado / WFVZ

Behavior


Ground Forager

In summer, male Chipping Sparrows defend territories against other Chipping Sparrows, but often tolerate other species as long as they don’t go too near the nest. After the breeding season, Chipping Sparrows form flocks of several dozen, foraging together among grasses and at bird feeders. Their flight pattern is energetic, straight, and only slightly undulating.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Chipping Sparrows are common and their overall numbers have been fairly stable since 1966 according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey (despite gains and losses in smaller parts of the range). Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 230 million, with 56 percent breeding in Canada, 38 percent breeding or wintering in the U.S., and 49 percent spending some part of the year in Mexico. They rate an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and they are not on the 2012 Watch List. Chipping Sparrows are common across North America, and they thrive in open, tree-filled spaces that go along with suburbs and parks, so their numbers have improved as we have settled the landscape.

Credits

Range Map Help

Chipping Sparrow Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident or short-distance migrant. Birds in the southern U.S. and mountains of Central America typically remain there year round. Birds that breed to the north of the latitudes of Arizona, Arkansas, and Tennessee (all the way to the Arctic) fly south to Baja California, Mexico, and Florida.

Backyard Tips

Chipping Sparrows will eat many kinds of birdseed, particularly black oil sunflower seeds from feeders, but also seed mixes scattered on the ground. Shrubs or small trees in your yard may entice Chipping Sparrows to build a nest.

Find This Bird

Particularly in fall and winter, watch for small flocks of Chipping Sparrows feeding on open ground near trees. In spring and summer, listen for the male’s long, loud trill, then look for the male in the upper branches of a nearby tree.

Get Involved

Watch your feeders this winter and send your counts of Chipping Sparrows and other birds to Project FeederWatch

Enhance your yard to attract sparrows and other birds. Visit our web pages on landscaping for birds

Learn more about bird photography in our Take Photos section. Then contribute your images to the Birdshare flickr site, which helps supply All About Birds and our other websites with photos.

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