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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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Keys to identification Help

Sparrows
Sparrows
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Chipping Sparrow is a slender, fairly long-tailed sparrow with a medium-sized bill that is a bit small for a sparrow. Learning the shape of this classic Spizella sparrow is a key step in mastering sparrow identification.

  • Color Pattern

    Summer Chipping Sparrows look clean and crisp, with frosty underparts, pale face, black line through the eye, topped off with a bright rusty crown. In winter, Chipping Sparrows are subdued, buff brown, with darkly streaked upperparts. The black line through the eye is still visible, and the cap is a warm but more subdued reddish brown.

  • Behavior

    Chipping Sparrows feed on the ground, take cover in shrubs, and sing from the tops of small trees (often evergreens). You’ll often see loose groups of them flitting up from open ground. When singing, they cling to high outer limbs. On the ground they hop or run through grasses searching for seeds.

  • Habitat

    Look for Chipping Sparrows in open woodlands and forests with grassy clearings across North America. You’ll also see them in parks, along roadsides, and in your backyard, particularly if you have feeders and trees.

Range Map Help

Chipping Sparrow Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult breeding

    Chipping Sparrow

    Adult breeding
    • Bright rufous cap
    • Black stripe through eye
    • Gray face, white throat and eyebrow
    • Clear gray breast
    • © Michael Hogan, New Jersey, April 2006
  • Adult nonbreeding

    Chipping Sparrow

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Streaked rufous cap
    • Black stripe through eye
    • Gray face and nape, whitish throat, buff eyebrow
    • Brown back with black streaks
    • © Tripp Davenport, Real Co, Tennessee, January 2009
  • Adult nonbreeding

    Chipping Sparrow

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Streaked rufous cap
    • Clear gray underparts
    • White malar whisker, buff eyebrow
    • Pinkish bill
    • © Gregg Lee, Somervell County, Texas, November 2008
  • Adult nonbreeding

    Chipping Sparrow

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Streaked rufous cap
    • Clear gray breast
    • © Gregg Lee, Somervell County, Texas, November 2008
  • Adult nonbreeding

    Chipping Sparrow

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Thin, petite shape
    • Brown back with black streaks
    • Medium-length, notched tail
    • Pinkish bill
    • © Gregg Lee, Somervell County, Tennessee, November 2008
  • Adult breeding

    Chipping Sparrow

    Adult breeding
    • Bright rufous cap
    • Black stripe through eye
    • Clear gray underparts
    • Petite shape, black bill
    • © Tom Smith, Pemberton, New Jersey, April 2008
  • Adult breeding

    Chipping Sparrow

    Adult breeding
    • Bright rufous cap
    • Black stripe through eye
    • Gray face, white throat and eyebrow
    • © qmonic, Alberta, Canada, June 2008
  • Adult nonbreeding

    Chipping Sparrow

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Brown back with black streaks
    • Clear gray underparts
    • Gray nape
    • © Don Rash, June 2008
  • Adult breeding

    Chipping Sparrow

    Adult breeding
    • Gray face, white throat and eyebrow
    • Black stripe through eye
    • Brown back with black streaks
    • Medium-length, notched tail
    • © Kevin Carver, June 2005
  • Juvenile

    Chipping Sparrow

    Juvenile
    • Streaky
    • Dark crown
    • Pinkish bill
    • Loses juvenile plumage a few weeks after fledging
    • © Kelly Colgan Azar, Delaware, July 2010

Similar Species

  • Adult

    American Tree Sparrow

    Adult
    • Rufous (not black) stripe through eye, rufous crown
    • Reddish shoulder
    • Black and yellow bill
    • © Darin Ziegler, Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 2008
  • Adult

    American Tree Sparrow

    Adult
    • Dark spot on center of gray breast
    • Rufous (not black) stripe through eye, rufous crown
    • More common in winter in most of U.S. and southern Canada
    • © Laura Erickson, Ithaca, New York, January 2009
  • Adult

    Field Sparrow

    Adult
    • Orangish crown and ear patch
    • Pale face with white eyering
    • Buffy sides and reddish back
    • Pink bill
    • © Laura Erickson
  • Adult

    Lark Sparrow

    Adult
    • Similar to breeding Chipping Sparrow
    • Rufous cap and cheek
    • Bolder face marking, including dark mustache
    • Prominent spot on pale breast
    • White outer tail feathers and tail tip
    • © Donald Metzner, November 2007

Similar Species

American Tree Sparrow has a spot in the middle of the breast, a bicolored bill (black above, yellowish below), and a rufous, not black, stripe through the eye. Field Sparrows have a bright-pink bill, duller crown, and distinct eye ring. Juvenile and winter Chipping Sparrows can be confused with many other sparrows. Look for Chipping Sparrow's gray rump when it flies.

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.

This species often comes to bird feeders. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

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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