Chipping Sparrow Life History

Habitat

Habitat Open WoodlandsYou’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.Back to top

Food

Food SeedsChipping 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.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest ShrubFemales 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.

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.

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.
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Behavior

Behavior Ground ForagerIn 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.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernChipping Sparrows are common across the continent, but overall the species declined by about 36% between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 230 million, with 38% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 49% in Mexico, and 56% breeding in Canada. The species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Chipping Sparrow is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. These birds thrive in open, tree-filled spaces that go along with suburbs and parks, so in some areas their numbers have increased as humans settled the landscape.Back to top

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.

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Credits

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

Middleton, Alex L. 1998. Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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