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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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Songs

The Field Sparrow’s most familiar song is a long, accelerating series of short whistles that build to a rapid trill. It lasts about 4 seconds and has the quality of a bouncing ball coming to rest. In early morning, males sing a more complex song, which begins with the trill followed by longer notes, and is used during territorial interactions.

Calls

Males and females both give an array of calls, including a single-note “seep” when foraging together, and a higher-pitched version made by mated pairs when courting and nest building. A brooding female makes a call that sounds like a low-pitched cricket’s chirp when her mate approaches the nest with food. Threats will elicit a chip call, possibly to alert a mate or chicks, and the birds will react to hawks with a high, thin, whistled zeeeeee.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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.