One of the most common sparrows in North America, the chipping sparrow is widespread and popular in many areas. Its colorful markings make it easy to identify during the breeding season, though even experienced birders may need to take a second look when this bird is more disguised in winter.
Chipping Sparrow, Chippy
- Bill: Short, conical, black in summer and peach-gray in winter
- Size: 5.5 inches long with 8-9-inch wingspan, long tail, thick body
- Colors: Black, white, gray, brown, chestnut
- Markings: Genders are similar with a boldly marked head that includes a white eyebrow, chin and throat. A thin black eye line extends through the lores and well behind the eye. The auriculars and nape are gray. The crown is bright chestnut during the breeding season. The underparts are a plain light gray, and the upperparts are brown streaked heavily with black. The wings are black with brown edges on the feathers and show two thin white wing bars. The rump is gray with blurry black streaks, and the long tail shows a slight notch. In winter, the head and face are less clearly marked and the chestnut cap is replaced with fine brown and black streaks. The eyes are black and the legs and feet are pale in every season.
Juveniles have the same basic markings as adults but lack the chestnut crown and show dark blotchy streaks on the underparts.
Seeds, insects, caterpillars, spiders, berries (See: Granivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
Chipping sparrows are relatively adaptable and can be found in any open wooded habitat, especially mixed coniferous and deciduous forests where oak and pine trees are abundant. They are often found in forest edges, short meadows, gardens, parks and backyards.
The chipping sparrow's year-round range is found in the southeastern United States from eastern Alabama to eastern Virginia, as well as from eastern Texas to southern Arkansas and within central Mexico. In summer, the breeding range extends as far north as Alaska and northern Canada, west to central California, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma and as far east as Tennessee and into the New England states, though these birds are missing from the driest, most barren parts of the Great Plains from eastern Colorado to northern Texas and western Oklahoma. In winter, these sparrows are slightly more widespread throughout the southern United States, including Florida, southern California and Mexico.
These small sparrows have a rattling song that has a high, even pitch with nearly identical "chip" notes repeated rapidly for 3-4 seconds. The typical call is a very high pitched, short "tsee" note. Chipping sparrows often sing from high, exposed perches, making birding by ear a good way to locate these birds in the field.
These are curious, active sparrows that can become tame and will even feed from birders' hands in the backyard. They are usually solitary or found in pairs during the breeding season, but in fall and winter they will stay in small family groups or form mixed flocks with clay-colored sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, bluebirds or warblers. They typically forage on the ground, and their flight pattern is slightly undulating.
These sparrows are generally monogamous but some incidents of polygamy have been recorded. The female parent will build a flimsy, lightweight, cup-shaped nest of grass, weeds and rootlets lined with finer grasses or fur. The nest is generally placed in a tree or shrub 3-15 feet above the ground.
The eggs are a light blue-green with sparse dark specks typically in a wreath pattern near the larger end of the egg. There are 2-7 eggs per brood, and a mated pair produces 2 broods per year, though occasional records have been made of three seasonal broods. The female incubates the eggs for 12-14 days, and both parents continue to feed the altricial young for 8-12 days after hatching.
Chipping sparrows have hybridized with clay-colored sparrows and Brewer's sparrows.
Attracting Chipping Sparrows:
These sparrows will readily visit backyards with mature trees and bird-friendly landscaping. They will feed on mixed birdseed and black oil sunflower seeds, and will be especially eager to visit low platform or tray feeders. Chipping sparrows are often seen feeding under hopper feeders on spilled seed. Providing seed-bearing flowers for birds and allowing those seeds to naturally fall to the ground will be another ideal food source for chippies.
Chipping sparrows are not at all threatened and are adaptable to parks, gardens and backyards throughout their range. Minimizing insecticide and pesticide use during the breeding season can help ensure these birds have a good supply of insects to feed their hatchlings.
- Clay-Colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida)
- Brewer's Sparrow (Spizella breweri)
- Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla)
- American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)
- Rufous-Crowned Sparrow (Aimophila ruficeps)
- Rufous-Winged Sparrow (Aimophila carpalis)