Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Spizella passerina
Population size
230 mln-1 bn
Life Span
9 yrs
32 km/h
11-15.5 g
12-15 cm
21 cm

The Chipping sparrow is a species of American sparrow that is widespread and common across most of its North American range. Throughout the year, adult birds are gray below and an orangish-rust color above. In their breeding plumage, they have orangish-rust upper parts, gray head and underparts, and a distinctive reddish cap. In non-breeding plumage, the cap is brown and the facial markings are less distinct.


Chipping sparrows are found across most of North America. They are partial migrants with northerly populations flying southwards in the fall to overwinter in Mexico and the southern United States, and flying northward again in spring. Chipping sparrows inhabit taiga, forests, open woodlands, shrubland, thickets, pastures, and urban areas. In the west of their range, they breed mainly in coniferous forests, but in the east, they choose woodland, farmland, parks, and gardens.

Chipping Sparrow habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

In the winter, Chipping sparrows are gregarious birds. They form flocks and sometimes associate with other bird species. Chipping sparrows are active during the day spending most of the time foraging on the ground for seeds and other food items. They may also clamber on plants and trees to feed on buds and small insects. Chipping sparrows prefer to forage in covered areas, often near the edges of fields. The birds communicate with each other vocally and also use visual displays. Their common call is a sharp 'chip' often produced during foraging. The song is a trill that varies considerably among birds within any particular region. The flight call of Chipping sparrows is heard year-round; it is piercing and pure-tone and may be transliterated as 'seen'.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Chipping sparrows are herbivores (granivores, graminivores). They feed mainly on seeds, grasses, herbs, and occasionally small berries. During the breeding season, they hunt insects and may also take spiders.

Mating Habits

10-15 days
4-5 weeks
2-7 eggs

Chipping sparrows are considered monogamous (one male to one female). However, they may also exhibit polygynous behavior when males mate with more than one female. Males start arriving at the breeding grounds from March (in more southern areas, such as Texas)) to mid-May (in southern Alberta and northern Ontario). Females arrive one to two weeks later, and males start singing soon after to find and court a mate. After the pair is formed, nesting begins (within about two weeks of the female's arrival). Overall, the breeding season is from March till about August. Chipping sparrows breed in grassy, open woodland clearings and shrubby grass fields. The nest is built in a tree or bush. The nest itself is constructed by the female in about four days. It consists of a loose platform of grass and rootlets and an open inner cup of plant fiber and animal hair. The female lays a clutch of 2 to 7 pale blue to white eggs with black, brown, or purple markings. They are incubated by the female for 10 to 15 days. The chicks hatch altricial; they are naked, blind, and helpless. They and are fed by both parents for 9-12 days. By this time the chicks are ready to leave the nest but both parents continue to feed them for about 3 weeks more. At the age of 1 year young Chipping sparrows become reproductively mature and start to breed.


Population threats

Chipping sparrows are common and widespread across their range. However, their nests are often brood parasitized by Brown-headed cowbirds and this usually results in the nest being abandoned.

Population number

According to the What Bird resource, the total population size of the Chipping sparrow is around 1 billion individuals. According to the All About Birds resource the total breeding population size of this species is 230 million breeding birds. Overall, currently Chipping sparrows are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are increasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Chipping sparrows belong to a group of mainly New World passerine birds called American sparrows. Although they share the name sparrow, American sparrows are more closely related to Old World buntings than they are to the Old World sparrows. American sparrows are also similar in both appearance and habit to finches, with which they sometimes used to be classified.
  • The Chipping sparrow is divided into two major groups: the Eastern chipping sparrow and the Western chipping sparrow.
  • Chipping sparrows migrate by night, and their flight calls are a characteristic sound of the night sky in spring and fall in the United States.
  • In the southern Rockies and eastern Great Plains, the Chipping sparrow appears to be the most common nocturnal migrant, judged by the number of flight calls detected per hour. On typical nights in August in this region, Chipping sparrows may be heard at a rate of 15 flight calls per hour. On better nights, these birds occur at a rate of 60 flight calls per hour, and on exceptional nights their flight calls are heard more than 200 times per hour!
  • During the nesting season, the female Chipping sparrow develops a bare patch on her abdomen; it is filled with fluid and helps to better transfer the heat to the eggs during incubation.


1. Chipping Sparrow on Wikipedia -
2. Chipping Sparrow on The IUCN Red List site -

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