Five-striped Sparrow

Amphispiza quinquestriata


Sounds and Vocal Behavior

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Figure 3. Vocalizations of the Five-striped Sparrow, Arizona.

Male vocalizations. Vocalizations "c" and "d" are from the same bird.

Figure 4. Examples of Five-striped Sparrow Pair Bond calls.

Males within and between canyons have unique calls.

Five-striped Sparrow vocalizing.
© Bradley Hacker, Arizona, United States, 14 July 2016



In Arizona, male songs are usually fully developed when birds first sing on territory, although subsongs and whisper singing by adult males have been recorded after territory establishment but prior to breeding (35). A color-marked nestling returning to its natal area shared more note complexes with its father and its father's neighbor than with non-neighboring males (35), suggesting the presence of song learning in this species. Nothing is known about sensitive periods of learning in this species. Some nestlings fledge in late September, a time when few songs are sung by adult males. No singing has been recorded during winter months.

Vocal Array

Structurally, songs and calls in this species meet classical definitions. Calls are brief with relatively simple acoustic structure, songs are longer and consist of a series of notes, or a single note repeated, arranged in a specific pattern (36). In general, calls function as social signals, songs as reproductive signals.

Single-syllable calls include chuck, pip, and seet; alarm call (chatter) and pair bond/high intensity call are multisyllabic. Chuck and pip also serve as introductory notes to songs (see Figure 3). Songs are stacatto, unmelodious, and brief, usually composed of an introductory note and most often 2 (range 1–7) note complexes. A note is “one continuous vocal utterance” (37), and a note complex is a note or a group of notes consistently occurring together. Within a song, a particular note complex is never repeated more than 4 times successively, nor are 3 different note complexes sung consecutively (Table 2). Song bouts consist of one to several hundred songs; average singing rate is 16 songs/min. Rate varies with bird's activity. Songs usually delivered at a faster rate when given from an elevated perch or in response to playback, more slowly when foraging on ground or concealed in bushes. Will sing with food in bill (see ML108426111 and ML109255851).

Females produce same single syllable calls as males, and duet with mate during rendezvous, but do not utter songs. Duets have stereotyped vocal elements that overlap, as well as consistent element coordination, but are not temporally precise (38).

Geographic Variation: similar songs and singing behavior among males in several canyons in southeastern Arizona and one male at Cajón Bonito, Sonora (39). Wolf (4) did not notice differences between males in Sonora and Jalisco. Sample sizes of other recordings (40, 4) were too small to make statistical comparisons.


Males first appearing on territories give a steady series of call notes (chuck and pip) from exposed perches and while foraging on the ground. Song bouts short and infrequent. Song types heard in early breeding period are also heard later in the period. Frequency and duration of singing bouts is greatest between June and September, waning after last nesting. All calls are given in winter.

In summer, males call more frequently than females do; in winter, sexes vocalize equally.

Daily Pattern of Vocalizing

Males sing during all daylight hours, with peak activity in early morning and late afternoon. Style of vocalizing does not change during the day.

Places of Vocalizing

Song perch heights range from tops of vegetation to ground level. Some perches are used more frequently than others. Song type is independent of perch location.

Repertoire and Delivery of Songs

Different terminology is used to describe Five-striped Sparrow songs, but all studies have used similar methods for cataloging songs. Many individual male sparrows have a large repertoire, although there are problems in determining size. Since Five-striped Sparrows sing with “eventual versatility” (41), e.g., song types are repeated many times before others are introduced, a large sample of songs must be recorded to determine repertoire size. Samples must be recorded throughout an entire season because rate of presentation of new song types is dependent on rate of song delivery (42), nesting cycle (39), and sexual context (43). Taking all this into account, 13 males recorded in Arizona varied greatly in their number of different songs and different note complexes (Table 2).

Usually, different song types within a bout are presented in no established pattern, but within long bouts, song types are delivered in a variety of patterns—the same song repeated, 2 song types alternating, or 3 song types occurring in triplets. Intervals between identical songs are longer than those between alternating songs, which are longer than intervals between songs occurring in triplets (42). This singing pattern supports the “anti-monotony” hypothesis (44).

Social Context and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations

The calls, chuck, pip, and seet are notes used by a pair to maintain contact, most often when foraging. A series of high frequency pips is used as an alarm call, and was recorded when a Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) flew by a singing male (see ML109252191). Chatter calls are given by both sexes during foraging bouts and by females during nest-building (39; see ML109251691 and ML108518541). Pair Bond/High Intensity calls are used in different contexts, generally when individuals suddenly meet (see ML109253291 and ML108517821). They are given by both male and female during a rendezvous, a call duet similar to that of Rufous-crowned Sparrow (Aimophila ruficeps) and Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata); they are given by neighboring males in a territorial dispute, or in response to playback of the species' vocalizations (34). Spectrographically similar, Pair Bond/High Intensity calls consist of a complex syllable, repeated from 2 to several times (Figure 4; see ML108432171). While performing surveys of Five-striped Sparrow in several canyons in southeastern Arizona, KG used playback tape of the species' song and calls to locate birds, then banded and color-marked males, and recorded their vocalizations. Spectrographic analyses of the Pair Bond/High Intensity calls showed that the syllables comprising the call are structurally different among males, and most males have one, unique type of syllable (Figure 4) (KG). The unique calls may be used for individual recognition between mates and neighboring males. Because the song repertoire of Five-striped Sparrow is so large, the advantages of individual recognition could be acquired by the use of these calls.

No countersinging noted; males on adjacent territories singing simultaneously neither match song types nor alternate song delivery. Wolf (4) stated “frequently used syllables (note complexes) differ among individual males, and the number of variations among all males was probably sufficient to permit individual recognition.” Because further data showed that Five-striped Sparrows sing with eventual variety and have very large repertoires, humans can probably recognize individual birds only during short-term observations. Whether or not individual Five-striped Sparrows recognize each other by song is unknown.

Increases and decreases in song complexity and singing pattern versatility are related to phases in breeding cycle. Song bouts consist of more different song types and greater transitions between different songs when eggs or young are in the nest than when no nest or an empty nest is present (42, 39). Repertoire is elastic within songs and between bouts, depending on sexual context. Song bouts sung in presence of mate consist of numerous note complex types occurring together within a song, and song bouts consist of many nonrepetitive song types. During interactions between males, songs and song bouts are less complex and song types are repeated (43).

Nonvocal Sounds

During precopulatory solicitation display, females are known to rapidly vibrate wings, producing an audible sound (34). See also ML109252611.

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.