Living Bird Magazine
Clay-colored SparrowSpizella pallida
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
The Clay-colored Sparrow’s buzzy song is a signature sound of the vast shrublands of the northern prairie and Great Plains. Though they’re not brightly colored, their pale tones and overall clean, crisp markings help set them apart from other sparrows—especially useful on their wintering grounds, where they often flock with other species. These active birds tend to forage within the branches of shrubs or on the ground beneath cover. Though still very numerous, their numbers have slowly declined over the past 40 years.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Within their range, Clay-colored Sparrows are numerous. In summer, visit shrublands or field edges and keep an eye and an ear out for a sparrow buzzing about in a thicket, typically low to the ground. Listen for the male singing a distinctive dry series of short buzzes. On the wintering grounds they’re liable to be mixed in with flocks of other sparrows. You’ll need to look carefully for their combination of overall slim shape, buffy tones, and crisp facial markings.
- Chingolo Pálido (Spanish)
- Bruant des plaines (French)
- Cool Facts
- The North American Breeding Bird Survey indicates Clay-colored Sparrows are still the most numerous songbird of shrub communities on the northern prairies—although their numbers have been slowly declining for the last several decades.
- Clay-colored Sparrow young leave the nest before they can fly. They hop to the ground from their nest in a shrub and run an average of 40 feet to seek cover in a thicket, where their parents will continue to feed them. They won’t fly for the first time for another 6 to 8 days.
- Clay-colored Sparrows, unlike most species, forage away from their breeding territories. Because they use different areas for breeding and feeding, they have the smallest breeding territory of any Spizella sparrow species.
- Clay-colored Sparrow pair bonds don’t last long. Males generally are loyal to their territory year after year, but females typically choose a different breeding area each season. So mated pairs persisting over subsequent years are rare.
- After their eggs hatch, Clay-colored Sparrows remove the eggshells to keep the nest clean. Most of the time parents carry the shells away from the nest, but sometimes they eat them.
- The oldest-known Clay-colored Sparrow was at least 6 years, 11 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Alberta in 1995. It had been banded in the same province in 1989.