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Species Description

Chipping Sparrow

Spizella passerina

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Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Emberizidae


Chestnut crown; white eyebrow; black eye stripe from the bill through the eye to the ear; gray ear patch and nape; back, wings, and tail mottled browns with buff streaking; two white wing bars; gray rump; gray to white breast and belly. 14 cm (5.5 in) in length. During the winter the chestnut crown is replaced with streaked browns and the white eyebrow is buff in color. The tail is fairly long and notched. The song of this species is a trill that remains on one pitch.

Life Cycle

The breeding season begins in mid-April, peaks in May, and extends into mid-August. Breeding habitat includes wooded residential areas, grassy areas with scattered trees, and golf courses. The Chipping Sparrow nests up to 3.3 m (11 feet) high in a tree (preferring conifers) or shrub, or on the ground. The cup-shaped nest is built out of grass, rootlets, and other plant material and is lined with hair. The female lays 2-5 (usually 4) eggs that she incubates for 11-14 days. The male feeds the incubating female. The young are altricial and fledge approximately 10 days after hatching. Both parents care for the young while they are in the nest and for a short period after they leave it.

Natural History

The wintering habitat includes those areas used for nesting, but is often more grassy and open than the breeding habitat. The diet of this species is primarily insects, but also includes spiders and seeds. The Chipping Sparrow forages by searching the ground and low vegetation for food. Some populations of this species are migratory.


Chipping Sparrow Region Map During the breeding season, the Chipping Sparrow occurs through most of the United States. Wintering birds are found throughout the South and into Mexico. In the Southeast this species is common throughout during the winter except in extreme southern Florida. During the breeding season this species occurs in most of the South except Florida and coastal Georgia.

Conservation Status

This species is a frequent host of the Brown-headed Cowbird, commonly raising cowbird young instead of or in addition to its own. This species is common in appropriate habitat and has no special conservation status in any part of its southeastern range.

Similar Species

In the Southeast, the species most similar to the Chipping Sparrow are other sparrows that have a rufous cap during the breeding season. The American Tree Sparrow and the Swamp Sparrow both have rufous caps, but neither of these breed in the Southeast. The American Tree Sparrow has a dark central spot on its breast and has more gray on the head. The Swamp Sparrow winters throughout the Southeast and may be in breeding plumage prior to leaving in the spring or just after arrival in the fall. This species does not have the white eyebrow, the distinct black eye stripe, or the two white wing bars found on the Chipping Sparrow.