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Chipping Sparrow

Common Name: Chipping Sparrow.

Scientific Name: Spizella Passerina.

What to look for?  The Chipping Sparrow is a slender, fairly long-tailed sparrow with a medium-sized bill that is a bit smaller than other sparrows. While many sparrows have similar features, the Chipping Sparrow has several distinctive features. They have a bright rusty crown. Their eyeline is black with a white eyebrow. And the belly of a Chipping Sparrow is gray and unstreaked. Non-breeding birds are paler than breeding birds, but note brownish crown, dark eyeline, and unstreaked neck and belly.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You’ll find Chipping Sparrows around our trees and backyard feeders. But these birds spend more time foraging on the ground so look for them under your feeders. And you will not find just one as they forage in groups, including with other birds.

How big are they? The Chipping Sparrow averages approximately 5 ½ inches in length. And their wingspan is just over eight inches. They weigh in at around ½ of one ounce.

What are their flight patterns? The Chipping Sparrow is agile flier. They are often seen flitting between bushes and feeders in short flights with their wings beating rapidly. Their energetic flight pattern is only slightly undulating.

How else do they behave? Chipping Sparrows feed on the ground. They will take cover in shrubs. And you find them singing from the tops of evergreens and other small trees. They are often seen in loose groups flitting around on the open ground searching for seeds.

What’s for dinner? Seeds, but diet has variation by season. Chipping Sparrows primarily eat seeds from a great variety of grasses, weeds and herbs. During the summer, their diet will add insects. Sometimes they eat small fruits such as cherries.

Where do they take up residence? Chipping Sparrows are common across North America (Canada, United States, Mexico) wherever trees are interspersed with grassy openings. In the northern sections of its range it is migratory. These northern areas are their summer breeding territories. They winter in the southern territories. The Chipping Sparrow may also be a year-round resident in those southern areas.

When and where do they breed and nest? Chipping Sparrows that migrate will breed in the northern U.S. and in Canada. Nests can be found in many places, including northern pine forests and southern deciduous forests; suburban yards, meadow edges and orchards.

Where do they migrate? Some Chipping Sparrows migrate and some do not. They migrate in the spring and fall. So, in Illinois, they will be here from mid-April into September.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Chipping Sparrow has seen slight decreases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 240 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Male Chipping Sparrows sing a long, dry trill of evenly spaced, almost mechanical-sounding chips. It’s one of the most common sounds in spring.  Here is a link to the sounds of the Chipping Sparrow.

Interesting Facts About the Chipping Sparrow:

  • Chipping Sparrow populations have declined by about 36% since 1966, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at a sizable 230 million.

  • Their loud, trilling songs are one of the most common sounds of spring woodlands and suburbs.

  • In 1929, Edward Forbush, a naturalist, called the Chipping Sparrow “the little brown-capped pensioner of the dooryard and lawn, that comes about farmhouse doors to glean crumbs shaken from the tablecloth by thrifty housewives.”

  • In much of the West, Chipping Sparrows disperse shortly after breeding to move to areas with better food resources. This results in the common misconception that they bred in those areas, when really, they simply moved there to molt.

  • The nest of the Chipping Sparrow is of such flimsy construction that light can be seen through it and probably provides little insulation for the eggs and young.

  • The oldest recorded Chipping Sparrow was approximately 11 years old.

For more information on the Chipping Sparrow and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society and National Geographic.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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