Chipping Sparrow

Spizella passerina

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 1998
  • Alex L. Middleton

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Chipping Sparrow.
Adult Chipping Sparrow, breeding plumage

The Chipping Sparrow is one of North America's most common and widely distributed migrant songbirds. “Songbird” may seem a misnomer for this species because its song is a uniform trill, on one pitch, formed from a rapidly produced series of tssips . Its call, a sharp chip, gives the bird its English name.

Unlike many sparrows, which are commonly associated with grassland communities, the Chipping Sparrow prefers open woodlands, the borders of natural forest openings, edges of rivers and lakes, and brushy, weedy fields. Its preference for nesting in the groves and open glades of coniferous forests, and for foraging in brushy open areas, suit this sparrow to human-modified habitats. The Chipping Sparrow is a common summer resident in towns and gardens and around more isolated human habitations in many parts of North America.

Even though common and abundant, the Chipping Sparrow is surprisingly under-studied. For example, until recently it was widely accepted that the Chipping Sparrow was a typically territorial and monogamous species, but evidence from Ontario now challenges this assumption. Observations of color-banded birds show that once nesting has begun, males move through neighboring territories, where they may copulate with several different females.

It is not known, however, if this behavior is characteristic of all Chipping Sparrow populations. Further study, including the use of DNA-fingerprinting, is necessary for a full understanding of the breeding biology of this species. Detailed studies are needed from many parts of its range on all aspects of its life cycle, including behavior, population dynamics, migration, and winter biology.

Recommended Citation

Middleton, A. L. (1998). Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.