Living Bird Magazine
Field SparrowSpizella pusilla
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Chingolo Campestre (Spanish)
- Bruant des champs (French)
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.
- Cool Facts
- If a male Field Sparrow survives the winter, it usually returns to breed in the same territory each year. The female is less likely to return to the same territory, and young sparrows only rarely return the next year to where they were born.
- The male Field Sparrow starts singing as soon as he gets back in the spring. He sings vigorously until he finds a mate, but after that he sings only occasionally.
- Female Field Sparrows arriving on the breeding grounds may experience a rude welcome from males seeking a mate. An unmated male will often fly at and strike a female on his territory, sometimes driving her to the ground. Such an approach seems to seal the deal; by the following day the male is following his mate closely as she searches for a nest site.
- Field Sparrows often breed more than once a season. They build a new nest each time, building them higher and higher off the ground as the season progresses. Early spring nests are often on the ground, where they’re less visible. As leaves and groundcover grow the birds build their nests in bushes and trees, where they’re safer from snakes and other predators.
- Field Sparrows are vulnerable to parasitism by Brown-Headed Cowbirds, which lay their eggs in the sparrows’ nests. In some Iowa and Illinois study areas, 50 percent to 80 percent of all nests contained cowbird eggs. In areas with high rates of parasitism, Field Sparrows physically attacked models of cowbirds placed near their nests; where little parasitism occurs, the sparrows showed only a mild reaction to the models.
- In winter Field Sparrows may form mixed feeding flocks with other species, including White-throated and Song Sparrows. Smaller and less aggressive than other sparrows, Field Sparrows are usually at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy in these mixed flocks. Their subordinate role means that they may have to take extra risks to gain access to food, such as returning to a feeding site first after a predator has flushed the flock.
- The oldest recorded Field Sparrow was at least 10 years, 4 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased at a banding station in Maryland in 2007. It had been banded in the same state in 1999.