Five-striped Sparrow

Amphispiza quinquestriata



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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Five-striped Sparrow (Sonora, Mexico).

Presumably subspecies A. q. septentrionalis. Resident in northwestern Mexico, from northern Sonora east to Chihuahua and south to, at least, Sinaloa; a low density of individuals occurs north into southeastern Arizona, at least in summer. Pale overall; central breast spot small.

Red Rock Canyon, Santa Cruz County, Arizona, near Patagonia, Arizona.

Aerial photograph of habitat and territory of a pair of Five-striped Sparrows found in 1974 and extensively studied in 1975.

Both slopes are a territory of a Five-striped Sparrow; California Gulch, Santa Cruz County, Arizona.
Steep slope on right is territory of a Five-striped Sparrow; California Gulch, Santa Cruz County, Arizona.
Five-striped Sparrow habitat; California Gulch, Santa Cruz County, Arizona.

Habitat of one location in California Gulch where Five-striped Sparrows over-wintered in Arizona.

Steep slope is territory of a Five-striped Sparrow; Tonto Canyon, Santa Cruz County, Arizona.
Habitat of Five-striped Sparrow in Chino Canyon, Santa Cruz County, Arizona.
Steep slope is territory of a Five-striped Sparrow; Sycamore Canyon, Santa Cruz County, Arizona.
Steep slopes on middle, left, are Five-striped Sparrow habitat; Holden Canyon, Santa Cruz County, Arizona.
Five-striped Sparrow with prey item.

Main foods taken include insects, primarily lepidopteran larvae.

Five-striped Sparrow vocalizing.
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.

Five-striped Sparrow display posture.
Five-striped Sparrow display posture.
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.

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.

Five-striped Sparrow (cover image).

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.