Five-striped Sparrow

Amphispiza quinquestriata



Welcome to the Birds of North America Online!

You are currently viewing one of the free species accounts available in our complimentary tour of Birds of North America. In this courtesy review, you can access all the life history articles and the multimedia galleries associated with this species.

For complete access to all species accounts, a subscription is required.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In
Five-striped Sparrows displaying.

Body stiffens; feathers, especially those of flanks and rump, flatten; wings droop; tail is cocked; bill is pointed upward so throat with prominent markings is exposed.

© Richard Fray , Arizona , United States , 6 June 2017
Five-striped Sparrow display posture.
© Jacob Drucker , Arizona , United States , 15 May 2018
Five-striped Sparrow display posture.
© Richard Fray , Arizona , United States , 6 June 2017


Walking, Hopping, Climbing, etc.

On ground, predominantly uses short hops. When pursued in the nonbreeding period, generally runs along the ground. Occasionally walks backward when forward movement is obstructed (KG).


Short, deliberate flights are made between song perches and foraging areas. Flight distance limited to territory during breeding season. Not observed to hover or glide.

Swimming and Diving



Preening, Bathing, etc.

Typical passerine preening; not known to allopreen. Leg passes over wing to scratch head with toes. Never observed dust-bathing or anting, but will bathe occasionally when water is available. Sunbathing has not been observed.

Sleeping, Roosting

No information on nocturnal behavior.

Daily Time Budget

Little information. During breeding season, most of male's time is spent foraging, singing, and defending territory; occasionally perching quietly on elevated perch, scanning area.

Agonistic Behavior

Physical Interactions

Intraspecific intruders are chased during breeding period. On one occasion, a mated male intermittently chased an unmated male at flight altitudes of 2–10 m for more than 30 min (34). Intrasexual grappling not observed.

Communicative Interactions

During lengthy interactions at territorial boundaries or during territorial intrusions, both males assume posture similar to female solicitation display: body stiffens; feathers, especially those of flanks and rump, flatten; wings droop; tail is cocked at 45-degree angle; bill is pointed upward so throat with prominent markings is exposed to other bird (34).



Type A territories (45) are maintained. In Arizona, most are on steep hillsides, bordering or including the wash below. Obvious topographic features, such as ridges, delineate territory boundary. No territory is above, and seldom across, from another, so each is bounded at most by 2 other territories. The size of territories in Patagonia, Arizona, was 0.6 to 2.6 ha; territories with lower shrub cover were generally larger than those with dense cover (34).

In Arizona, territories are established by April–May and break down after fledging of the last brood, usually August–September. Males tend to occupy the same territory used in the previous year, but occasionally shift to new areas. Marked females have returned to same area, occupied by different male, in successive years (KG).

Interspecific Territoriality

Most aggressive interactions are with Rufous-crowned Sparrow (Aimophila ruficeps). Singing Rufous-crowned Sparrows occur within Five-striped Sparrow territories in May and June, but by July–August they move above Five-striped Sparrow territories (34). Other species chased by Five-striped Sparrow include Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus), Varied Bunting (Passerina versicolor), and House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus); also aggressively display toward Brown-crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus tyrannulus). Species that chase Five-striped Sparrow include Canyon Towhee (Melozone fusca), Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii), Varied Bunting, and Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens).

Winter Territoriality

Not known to occur.

Dominance Hierarchies

Not known to occur.

Sexual Behavior

Mating System and Sex Ratio

Seasonal (behavioral) monogamy. Both members of a pair may return to a former territory in successive years. Returning bird (male or female) will accept new mate if former mate is absent.

Pair Bond

In early breeding season, before nest-building, female appears to follow male during foraging bouts. But while nesting, male vigilantly follows female as they forage, suggesting mate-guarding. Male also frequently sings quietly while foraging beside mate or perched nearby; male songs focused on the female, while watching attentively.

During one copulation observed, female assumed posture of bill up, tail down, and contour feathers erected. Audibly vibrated her wings and vocally produced high "pip" notes; lifted her tail as male approached, turned away from him, then vent contact made. Sequence repeated in a tree shortly after. This display was not part of copulation observed by Mills et al. (34).

Stable pair bonds formed early in breeding season. Pair formation may occur before arrival on territory; birds usually paired when first observed on territories (34). Pairs maintain close visual or audible contact. If separated, as when female is on nest, the pair performs a duet (pair-bond call) upon reunion. Extra-pair copulations have not been observed, but no studies to confirm genetic monogamy.

Social and Interspecific Behavior

Loose flocks form during winter months; such groups are usually small in size, but occasionally include up to about 40 individuals (S. Russell, personal communication). No play observed.

During winter months in Arizona, individuals observed foraging near Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus), and Canyon Towhee.


No predation of adults noted during a 5 yr study in southeastern Arizona (34), although eggs and nestlings were taken. Within the study area, adults showed alarm reactions and mobbed or scolded these potential predators: Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi), gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), rock squirrel (Otospermophilus variegatus), and Sonoran whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus). Other potential predators in the area: Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma wollweberi) and gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer). Response to humans depends on degree of threat. When disturbed on a nest, females quietly sneak away, sometimes give alarm call at a distance. Distraction display, performed most often by male, used to defend fledged young held by human: parent approaches young to within a meter, extends its wings, and hops along ground chattering constantly. Female also performs this display if male is absent; when he appears, she slips away and watches from a distance.

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.