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Chipping Sparrow Life History


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


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


Nest Placement

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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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


Low Concern

Chipping Sparrows are common across the continent, but the species declined by an estimated 0.6% per year for a cumulative decline of about 28% between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 240 million, and rates them 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. These birds thrive in open, tree-filled spaces found in suburbs and parks, so in some areas their numbers have increased as humans settled the landscape.

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

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

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. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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