Five-striped Sparrow

Amphispiza quinquestriata

Order:
Passeriformes
Family:
Passerellidae
Sections

Appearance

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Five-striped Sparrow (28 December).

Adults are distinctively marked sparrows with five white stripes on head (superciliaries, malars, and chin). Black spot between gray chest and white belly. Crown plain, purplish-grayish-brown; dorsum unstreaked chocolate. Tail and wings dark brown, bend of wing whitish, no wing bars. Maxilla black, mandible bluish. Sexes alike.

© David Stejskal , Arizona , United States , 28 December 2016
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Figure 2. Annual cycle of breeding and molt of the Five-striped Sparrow.

Thick lines equal peak activity, thin lines off peak activity.

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Juvenile Five-striped Sparrow (8 August).

Crown and back brown, the back spotted with darker brown and the lower back and rump uniformly brown with no streaks; tail brownish black, the tips of the outer pair of rectrices narrowly edged white when fresh. Head rather uniformly brown, mottled gray, without defined striped head pattern of Definitive Basic Plumage. Underparts variably washed yellowish.

© Gordon Karre , Arizona , United States , 8 August 2018
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Juvenile Five-striped Sparrow (22 August).

Underparts yellowish with a brownish pectoral band, faintly streaked brown; sides and flanks brownish; undertail coverts brownish, broadly tipped with yellow. Juvenile body feathers (especially undertail coverts) filamentous due to lower barb density than feathers of later plumages.

© Laurens Halsey , Arizona , United States , 22 August 2013
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Possible Auxiliary Formative Five-striped Sparrow (1 September).

Some birds may undergo an Auxiliary Preformative Molt, a separate limited molt prior to the Preformative Molt, resulting in partial acquisition of definitive head stripes and loss or partial loss of yellow to the underparts. This individual may be in Auxiliary Formative Plumage or it may simply be molting juvenile feathers directly into Formative Plumage.

© Richard Fray , Arizona , United States , 1 September 2017
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Formative Five-striped Sparrow (2 January).

Formative Plumage similar to Definitive Basic Plumage except head pattern averages less distinct, the supercilium and white subauricular stripe often abbreviated and the white throat indistinctly defined. Formative Plumage best separated by molt limits in the wing and tail: 2-3 tertials (and sometimes s6) replaced, dusky with bright rufous edging, contrasting with retained tertials and inner secondaries brownish with pale edging; all upperwing secondary coverts usually replaced, rufous, contrasting with worn and brown primary coverts and remiges. This bird shows head stripes that are close to definitive but note that replaced tertials and greater coverts, contrasting with the more worn secondaries and primary coverts, respectively.

© David Stejskal , Arizona , United States , 2 January 2016
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Five-striped Sparrow undergoing Definitive Prebasic Molt (6 September).

The Definitive Prebasic Molt is complete, occurring primarily August–October, perhaps commencing on breeding grounds and completing on winter grounds.

© Mel Senac , Arizona , United States , 6 September 2016
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Definitive Basic or Alternate Five-striped Sparrow (23 August).

Some individuals appear to have a limited Definitive Prealternate Molt in March-May, which results in a few new feathers but little or no change in appearance. Upperparts grayish brown, the forecrown, lower back, rump, and tail grayer and tinged purplish and the upper back chestnut to rufous-brown, sometimes tinged pinkish when fresh. Upperwing feathers including coverts, tertials, and remiges brown, sometimes tinged rufous, the feathers dusky centered with brown to rufous-brown fringing; greater alula edged white. Note tertials and wing coverts of the same generation, lacking molt limits, and indicating an adult in Definitive Basic or Alternate Plumage.

© Brian Hubbs , Arizona , United States , 23 August 2017
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Five-striped Sparrow (15 May).

Head grayish tinged purple, with distinct white superciliary streak, subauricular streak, and stripe down middle of chin and upper throat, the subauricular and white throat stripe bordered in between by distinct, black malar streaks expanding ventrally. Breast and flanks neutral slate-gray, with distinct round black patch in middle of breast. Abdomen is white, with undertail coverts broadly edged white. Outer rectrices with narrow pale tips when fresh; the truncated outer rectrix may indicate Definitive Basic or Alternate Plumage, although some birds replace all rectrices during the Preformative Molt so we cannot be certain of age without examining the wings.

© Jacob Drucker , Arizona , United States , 15 May 2018

Distinctively marked sparrow. Five white stripes on head (superciliaries, malars, and chin). Black spot between gray chest and white belly. Crown plain, purplish gray-brown; dorsum unstreaked chocolate. Tail and wings dark brown, bend of wing whitish, no wing-bars. Maxilla black, mandible bluish. Sexes alike. Mean total length (museum specimens): 13.3–14.5 cm (2).

Similar Species

Adult Five-striped Sparrows are rather unique and easy to identify. The mauve-tinged back, wings, and tail are not shared by any other sparrow. This upperpart coloration along with the bold black malar streak and black breast spot separated Five Striped from Black-throated Sparrow (A. bilineata) and the longer white supercillium and white subauricular spot are not found in Artemisiospiza sparrows including Sagebrush Sparrow (A. nevadensis) and Bell's Sparrow (A. belli). Juvenile and Auxiliary Formative Five-striped Sparrows can be more difficult to identify but the yellowish tinged underparts are not found in other juvenile sparrows. The lack a pale supercilium and presence of a distinct malar stripe further separate juvenile Five-striped Sparrow from juvenile Black-throated, Sagebrush, and Bell's sparrows. Note also that the habitat of Five-striped Sparrow, dense brushy vegetation in canyons and washes, is not typically shared by these other species.

Detailed Description

The Five-striped Sparrow has 9 functional primaries (numbered distally, p1–p9), 9 secondaries (numbered proximally, s1–s9, and including 3 tertials, s7–s9 in passerines), and 12 rectrices (numbered distally, r1–r6, on each side of the tail). Geographic variation in appearance is slight at best; see Systematics: Geographic Variation for appearance variation in one other recognized subspecies in Mexico. Little or no geographic or sex-specific variation in molt strategies have been reported.

Plumages

The following is based primarily on the plumage descriptions of Ridgway (2), Phillips (3), Wolf (4), Mills et al. (5), Phillips and Farfan (6), Howell and Webb (7), and Byers et al. (8); see Pyle (9) for age-related criteria. Sexes show similar appearance in all plumages. Definitive Plumage is assumed at Second Basic Plumage.

Natal Down

Present primarily April–June, in the nest. Nestlings sparsely covered with dark grayish down on back and head.

Juvenile (First Basic) Plumage

Present primarily June–November. Crown and back brown, the back spotted with darker brown and the lower back and rump uniformly brown with no streaks; tail brownish black, the tips of the outer pair of rectrices narrowly edged white when fresh. Head rather uniformly brown, mottled gray, without striped head pattern of Definitive Basic Plumage. Wings dusky; upperwing coverts dusky, margined with buffy brown forming two weak wing bars; primaries edged with whitish, becoming dusky on inner feathers; secondaries edged rufous; alula dusky, margined laterally with whitish. Underparts yellowish with a brownish pectoral band, faintly streaked brown; sides and flanks brownish; undertail coverts brownish, broadly tipped with yellow (3, 4). Juvenile body feathers (especially undertail coverts) filamentous due to lower barb density than feathers of later plumages.

Auxiliary Formative and Formative Plumages

These are referred to as "Supplemental" and "First Basic" or "Basic I" plumages, respectively, by Humphrey and Parkes (10), Thompson and Leu (11), and Pyle (9); see revision by Howell et al. (12). Auxiliary Formative Plumage not confirmed (see Molts), but there may be an extra plumage between Juvenile and Formative, in which facial patterns of adults are partially developed and belly loses some or all of the yellow. Alternatively, this may just represent individual variation in formative plumage based on timing of molt relative to age since fledging, and/or the yellow underparts bleaching with wear over the first winter. Study is needed.

Present primarily September–August or September–March, depending on presence or absence of a First Prealternate Molt (see Molts), respectively. It is similar to Definitive Basic Plumage except head pattern averages less distinct, the supercilium and white subauricular stripe often abbreviated and the white throat indistinctly defined. Best separated by molt limits in the wing and tail: 2–3 tertials (and sometimes s6) replaced, dusky with bright rufous edging, contrasting with retained tertials and inner secondaries brownish with pale edging; all upperwing secondary coverts usually replaced, rufous, contrasting with worn and brown primary coverts and remiges (occasionally outermost greater covert retained); rectrices sometimes mixed with replaced formative inner and retained juvenile outer feathers (though some show completely retained or completely replaced rectrices); retained juvenile outer primaries and rectrices thinner, more pointed, browner, and relatively more worn.

First and Definitive Alternate Plumages

Present primarily April–August although may not be present in all individuals. Appearance similar to Formative and Definitive Basic Plumages, respectively, except that a few scattered feathers in head and body may be replaced, contrastingly new, but not differing in color pattern from replaced feathers. Separation of First from Definitive Alternate Plumage similar to that described under Formative and Definitive Basic plumages. By summer, individuals in First Alternate Plumage often with noticeably more worn wings and tail due to solar bleaching of weaker juvenile feathers.

Definitive Basic Plumage

Present primarily September–August or September–March, depending on absence or presence of a Definitive Prealternate Molt (see Molts), respectively. Upperparts grayish brown, the forecrown, lower back, rump, and tail grayer and tinged purplish and the upper back chestnut to rufous-brown, sometimes tinged pinkish when fresh; outer rectrices with narrow pale tips when fresh. Head grayish tinged purple, with distinct white superciliary streak, subauricular streak, and stripe down middle of chin and upper throat, the subauricular and white throat stripe bordered in between by distinct, black malar streaks expanding ventrally. Upperwing feathers including coverts, tertials, and remiges brown, sometimes tinged rufous, the feathers dusky centered with brown to rufous-brown fringing; greater alula edged white. Breast and flanks neutral slate-gray, with distinct round black patch in middle of breast, white abdomen, and undertail coverts broadly edged white.

Definitive Basic Plumage separated from Formative Plumage by having wing and tail feathers uniform in quality and freshness: tertials and inner secondaries uniform in wear; primary coverts duskier, usually showing rufous edging, not contrasting in feather quality with greater coverts; basic outer primaries and rectrices broader, more truncate, duskier, and relatively fresher (9).

Molts

General

Molt and plumage terminology follows Humphrey and Parkes (10), as modified by Howell et al. (12, 13). Five-striped Sparrow appears to exhibit a Complex Alternate Strategy (cf. 12, 14), including complete prebasic molts, a partial preformative molt, and limited prealternate molts in both first and definitive cycles (9, 15; Figure 2). There is also some indication that a second, Auxililary Preformative Molt (formerly considered a Presupplemental Molt) may occur in following Juvenile Plumage (see below).

Prejuvenile (First Prebasic) Molt

Complete, primarily May–July in North America, in the nest. Little information on timing or sequence of pennaceous feather irruption and development. By day 4, short wing and body feathers appear and become completely sheathed; by day 6–7, remiges break sheaths and rectrices are short and sheathed. Feathers at sides of rump and belly may develop last. Duration of Prejuvenile Molt among individuals probably ca. 8–9 d, with outer primaries and rectrices not fully grown until after fledging at 9–10 d.

Auxiliary Preformative Molt

"Presupplemental Molt" of Thompson and Leu (11) and Pyle (15); see revisions by Howell et al. (12) and Pyle (16) regarding the terminology of such unique, second inserted first-cycle molts, first recognized and described in sparrows and cardinals by Sutton (17). If present, this molt may begin before juvenile rectrices are completely grown; this interpretation assumes that the first post-juvenile is the later inserted molt (evolutionarily speaking), and thus considered the Auxiliary Preformative Molt, followed by the Preformative Molt, rather than the reverse. An alternate interpretation is that this feather replacement may simply represent continued activation of follicles during protracted Prejuvenile (First Prebasic) Molt, as a fledgling develops, or from a variably protracted Preformative Molt resulting in different plumage patterns, rather than a separate molt involving replaced juvenile feathers that are replaced again during the Preformative Molt (cf. 16, 14). Further study is needed on whether this molt occurs in the Five-striped Sparrow and other species. See also Auxiliary Formative Plumage, above.

Preformative Molt

"First Prebasic" or "Prebasic I" Molt of Humphrey and Parkes (10) and some later authors; see revision by Howell et al. (12). Partial-to-incomplete, primarily September–December (Figure 2), perhaps commencing on breeding grounds and completing on winter grounds. Includes most or all body feathers and upperwing secondary coverts (outermost greater covert occasionally retained), 2–3 tertials (s8–s9 or s7–s9), occasionally s6, and no (in ca. 33% of birds) to all (also in ca. 33%) inner rectrices, but no primary coverts, primaries, or other secondaries (9, 15).

Look also for "eccentric" Preformative Molt sequence, in some birds, including outer but not inner primaries and inner but not outer secondaries; this molt pattern occurs more frequently in passerine species exposed to greater amounts of solar radiation and/or harsh and xeric vegetation, such as Five-striped Sparrow, and includes those feathers more exposed to the elements (9).

First and Definitive Prealternate Molts

Limited, primarily March–June (Figure 2), on winter grounds. Wolf (4​) stated stated there is no prenuptial molt; however, later observations suggest limited prealternate molt occurs in some individuals. For example, individual collected on 2 April in Sinaloa had traces of molt on chin and lower back (6) and one netted 7 May in Sonora showed light ventral and dorsal molt (S. Russell, personal communication). In June 1992, 9 of 17 netted males showed light ventral molt, one of which also was molting on the forehead, chin, and thighs (KG, unpublished data). No information on whether First and Definitive Prealternate Molt differ in timing or extent, although in most passerines these are similar.

Definitive Prebasic Molt

Complete, primarily August–October (Figure 2), perhaps commencing on breeding grounds and completing on winter grounds. Primaries (and corresponding primary coverts) are replaced distally (p1 to p9), secondaries are replaced proximally from s1 and, likely, proximally and distally from the central or innermost tertial (s8 or s9) as typical of passerines, and rectrices are probably replaced distally (r1 to r6) on each side of tail, with some variation in sequence possible; sometimes all rectrices molt synchronously (KG). Secondaries begin replacement after inner 4 to 6 primaries replaced or growing; molt of tertials and rectrices begins about the same time as primary molt. Body molt commences after primary and secondary molt; starts on midback, scapulars, breast, throat, and sides, and finishes with crown, lower back, uppertail coverts, and undertail coverts.

Bare Parts

Bill and Gape

Maxilla black, mandible bluish (2).

Iris

Dark brown.

Legs and Feet

Legs and feet light horn brownish, toes darker (2).

Measurements

Linear Measurements

Males are slightly larger than females, but overlap broadly in measurements. Based on museum specimens (A. q. septentrionalis): wing length of females 63–72 mm (n = 23), males 67–76 mm (n = 57); tail length of females 60–69 mm (n = 23), males 63–73 mm (n = 64). See Table 3 for additional biometric data for live, adult male Five-striped Sparrows in Arizona.

Mass

Mean mass of 45 adult males in Arizona (A. q. septentrionalis) was 20.33 g ± 1.19 SD.

Recommended Citation

Groschupf, K. D. (2019). Five-striped Sparrow (Amphispiza quinquestriata), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.fisspa.02