Five-striped Sparrow

Amphispiza quinquestriata



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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.

Figure 5. Five-striped Sparrow at its nest. By Kenn Kaufman.

Once young are 4-5 days old, both parents feed nestlings.

Female Five-striped Sparrow on nest.

Nest is a deep cup supported in vegetation; cup composed of grass stems and blades, lined with fine grass. Incubation by female only. Photograph by Dan L. Fischer.

© Kathy Groschupf , Arizona , United States , 12 August 1979
Five-striped Sparrow at nest, bringing grasshopper to feed nestlings.

Females do most of feeding initially. When young are 4 to 5-d old, task is divided evenly by parents, who alternate visits to nest. Whole caterpillars, grasshoppers, moths, and ants are shoved into nestlings's gaping mouth. Photograph by Dan L. Fischer.

© Kathy Groschupf , Arizona , United States , 12 August 1979


Pair Formation

Not known if pairs form before or after arrival at breeding sites in Arizona, but birds are paired when first sighted on territory (34).

Nest Building

Initial nesting probably coincides with first significant summer rainstorms (Figure 2), as with other bird species that occur in arid habitat in the U.S., including Rufous-winged Sparrow, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Gambel's Quail (46).

First/Only Brood per Season

In southeastern Arizona (1974 to 1976), first egg of the season ranged from 4 June to 20 July. Of 26 nests studied, 4 first-egg dates were in June, 16 were in July, and 6 were in August. Dates of first egg in last nest of the season ranged from 8 July to 20 August (34; Figure 2). In Sonora (1963, 1964), first nesting occurred from early to mid-July, with second nesting in late August and September in 1963; there was no evidence for second nesting by early September in 1964. Males from Jalisco and Zacatecas had sperm-filled cloacal protuberances in July and September (4).

Nest Site


Nest site is located within male's territory, often on the periphery. Females tend to place a subsequent nest farther from a failed nest (mean distance 131 m for 4 failed nests) than from a nest that successfully fledged young (mean distance 23 m for 5 successful nests). Among individuals, no preference for a particular nest plant (34). Height of nest rim above ground was 19–150 cm for 21 nests (34).

Site Characteristics

Nests placed in grass clumps (e.g., Arizona cottontop [Digitaria californica]), at the base of ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), and in shrubs (e.g., Condelia sp., turpentine bush [Ericameria laricifolia], hackberry [Celtis sp.], Florida hopbush [Dodonaea viscosa], Wright's beebrush [Aloysia wrightii], Thurber's desert honeysuckle [Anisacanthus thurberi, saltbush [Atriplex sp.], Baccharis sp., and yellow trumpetbush [Tecoma stans]).



Only females construct nests, usually early morning before 08:00. Male attentively follows as she selects nest material. Nest built in 3 to 5 d (34).

Structure and Composition

A deep cup supported in vegetation; cup composed of grass stems and blades, lined with fine grass. Hair from collared peccary (Pecari tajacu) and/or horse lined 14 of 20 nests (34).


Mean dimensions based on 20 nests: outside diameter 102 mm (range 79–120); outside height 91 mm (range 64–140); inside diameter 67 mm (range 51–73); and inside depth 63 mm (range 47–90) (34).


Nest is usually hidden in heavy foliage of the nest plant, sometimes under canopy of larger plant, and occasionally in open understory of hackberry–mesquite thickets.

Maintenance or Reuse of Nest; Alternate Nests

New nests are constructed for each nesting attempt.

Nonbreeding Nests

None known.



Based on a sample of 9 eggs, mean length 19.8 mm (range 18.8–20.3) and mean width 15.5 mm (range 15.0–16.0) (34).

Mass of Fresh, Whole Egg

No data.

Eggshell Thickness

No data.


Dull white and unmarked.

Clutch Size

Clutches include 3–4 eggs. When first egg is laid before 14 July, clutch size is typically 3 eggs (6 of 7 nests); after 14 July, clutch size is typically 4 eggs (6 of 8 nests) (34).

Egg Laying

Upon completion of nest, female lays one egg per day.


Onset of Broodiness and Incubation in Relation to Breeding

Incubation by female only. Incubation begins with the second egg of 3-egg clutch or the third egg of 4-egg clutch (34).

Incubation Patch

One large incubation patch, female only.

Incubation Period

Incubation lasts 12–13 d. In 3-egg clutches, 1 egg usually hatches 1 d later.

Parental Behavior

Female leaves nest during incubation to forage. Male accompanies her during foraging bout. If separated, she awaits his return to be escorted back to nest.


Preliminary Events and Vocalizations

No information.

Shell Breaking and Emergence

No information.

Parental Assistance and Disposal of Eggshells

No information.

Young Birds

Conditions at Hatching

Young are naked except for sparse dark-gray down on back and head. Eyes closed.

Growth and Development

At day 3, young make high, thin peeping sounds when nest is disturbed by returning parent or human observer. By day 4, eyes are open, short wing and body feathers appear, completely sheathed. Rictal flanges are yellow; mouth linings bright red. At days 6–7, remiges break sheaths and rectrices are short and sheathed; nestling is fluffy in appearance, but the sides of rump and belly are still unfeathered.

Causes of Death

Snakes and mammals may steal eggs and young from nest. One nest with eggs and an incubating female was swept away in flash flood (KG).

Parental Care


After eggs hatch, female broods on hot days. Standing at edge of nest, she frequently raises and slowly lowers rump feathers. One female was observed to brood her 4 to 5-day-old young for 4–5 min after each feeding (34).


Initially, female does most of the feeding. When young are 4–5 days in age, feeding is divided more evenly between parents, who alternate visits to the nest. Whole caterpillars, grasshoppers, moths, and ants are inserted into nestlings's gaping mouth (Table 1).

Nest Sanitation

No information.

Cooperative Breeding

Not known to occur.

Brood Parasitism

Of 22 nests with eggs, 5 nests were parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater); of these nests, 4 nests had 1 cowbird egg, and 1 nest had 2 cowbird eggs. At Patagonia, Arizona, 1 of 10 nests found in 1975 and 1976 was parasitized, while in 1977 and 1978, 4 of 6 nests were parasitized. Cowbird eggs were removed from 3 nests by predators or humans; a cowbird and sparrow fledged from 1 nest; and 1 cowbird fledged from other nest. In 2 nests that fledged a cowbird, 1 contained an unhatched sparrow egg, and 1 nest contained 2 unhatched sparrow eggs (34).

Fledgling Stage

Departure from Nest

Nestling period lasts 9–10 d. At 8–9 days in age, nestlings removed from nest by human and returned when parents are away will remain in nest. If returned when parents are present and giving alarm calls, young vocalize with rapid “ticking” and jump out of nest. Once departed on their own, young do not return to nest.

Condition of Development at Departure

At departure, dark grayish brown juvenile feathers completely cover body; streaks of dull white feathers on breast and belly. Remiges sheathed only at base; short flights possible. Tail very short with feather tips unsheathed.


At 15–18 d after fledging, streaks on underparts have cleared and belly appears as unstreaked light yellow, chest and sides brownish gray; tail length about 75% adult tail length; rictal flanges still conspicuous.

At 20 d after fledging, juvenile plumage is brownish gray, malar stripes dark brownish gray, white throat stripes gray, and belly pale yellow.

At 22–24 d after fledging, black chest spot is obvious. White superciliaries are not conspicuous until 40 d after fledging (15 d for one exceptional bird). At this time, the young resemble adults except for the yellowish belly and less distinct white head markings. For a description of Juvenile Plumage, see Appearance: Plumages.

Association with Parents or Other Young

Both parents continue to feed young 4–5 d after they leave nest. Male alone attends fledged young if female renests. Both parents feed young of last brood of year. Young continue to be fed 18 d after leaving nest. At 30 d after fledging, young continue to beg, but also feed on their own. At 42 d after fledging, young still with parents, but feed on their own.

Immature Stage

Little information on timing of independence. At 30 d after fledging, young continue to beg, but also feed on their own. At 42 d after fledging, young still with parents, but feed on their own. Time of dispersal unknown.

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.