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Field Sparrow

Spizella pusilla ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The clear, “bouncing-ball” trill of the Field Sparrow is a familiar summer sound in brushy fields and roadsides of the East and Midwest. The singer is a small, warm-toned sparrow with a rusty cap, neat white eyering, and pink bill. Though still common, Field Sparrows have declined sharply in the last half-century, partly because of the expansion of suburbs, where Field Sparrows will not nest. Populations in the prairies have remained strong thanks in part to measures like the Conservation Reserve Program.

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Sparrows
Sparrows
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Field Sparrows are small, slender sparrows with relatively short, conical bills, rounded heads, and somewhat long tails.

  • Color Pattern

    These are warm-colored birds with a distinct white eyering, a pink bill, and pale grayish underparts with soft orangey highlights. The head is pale gray with a bright rufous crown and a wide rufous line behind the eye. The whitish throat is bordered by soft orange-rufous lateral throat stripes. The back is brown with black streaks, all of which contrasts with the gray rump and tail. The wings have two weak wingbars.

  • Behavior

    Field Sparrows are unobtrusive and can be easily overlooked except for the long, distinctive song of breeding males. On spring and summer mornings they sing this loud, accelerating song from exposed perches. Individuals or, outside the breeding season, small flocks quietly feed on weed and grass seeds on or near the ground, flushing into shrubby cover when disturbed.

  • Habitat

    Field Sparrows are so-called “old-field” specialists; look for them in areas of tall grass and brush that are growing up into small trees and shrubs, particularly thorny shrubs such as roses and briars.

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Similar Species

Similar Species

Several other sparrows share the Field Sparrow’s bright reddish-brown crown, including American Tree Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, and Swamp Sparrow. All three of these lack the Field Sparrow’s crisp white eyering. American Tree Sparrow, which is only seen in winter and only in northern North America, has a black-and-yellow bill, instead of a pink bill. It is less warmly colored and typically has gray-white underparts with an ill-defined blackish spot in the center. The legs of American Tree Sparrow are a darker brownish-pink than the bright pink legs of Field Sparrow. Chipping Sparrows head pattern is more striking than Field Sparrow’s, with a long whitish stripe above the eye and a crisp black line through the eye. The species’ bill is black in spring and summer and vaguely yellowy-pink with a black culmen the rest of the year. Swamp Sparrows lack the Field Sparrow’s white eyering and pink bill. Swamp Sparrows have obvious reddish-brown highlights in the wings and the underparts are a colder, grayer tone. Immature White-crowned Sparrows, despite their much larger size, are often mistaken for Field Sparrows due to their pink bills and head pattern, but their underparts are nearly entirely gray and their white wing bars more obvious.

Regional Differences

Field Sparrows in the Great Plains tend to be larger, paler, and grayer than their brighter, browner counterparts in the East, although there is considerable overlap in both plumage and size. On Great Plains individuals, the only warm body coloration is restricted to the crown (but with a gray central crown stripe) and a bar at the shoulder. The back is brown with gray streaks.

Find This Bird

Field Sparrows are easiest to find in the early morning during spring and summer, when males give their long, “bouncing ball” songs from exposed perches. You can find these fairly common birds by searching areas of shrubby grasslands or overgrown, weedy fields. Males tend to sing from obvious perches such as fence lines and the tops of small trees. At other times of year, pay attention to flocks of sparrows in such habitats, looking for smaller, warm-colored birds foraging near the ground—bearing in mind that such flocks may contain multiple species of sparrows.