Return to Main Page   Dakota Birder Blog    

Chipping Sparrow

Spizella passerina

Length: 5.5 inches Wingspan: 8.5 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Chestnut cap, white eyebrow, black eyeline, two white wing bars

Chipping Sparrow - Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrows are a very tame sparrow, well adapted to human presence.  They now reside and nest in a very wide variety of habitats, including in urban settings.  The name comes from the sparrow's song, as their rapid trilling is a very common sound in South Dakota during the summer months.  These little birds are unfortunately common hosts to Brown-headed Cowbird parasitism, and it is not uncommon to see unwitting Chipping Sparrow parents raising Cowbird chicks that weigh three times as much as the parents.


Found in semi-open habitats, usually with tree and other vegetative cover interspersed with open areas. This may include shelterbelts, riparian areas, woodland edges and clearings, and suburban parks, yards, and gardens.


They will feed on the seeds of grasses and weeds at all seasons, but the diet during the summer breeding season is mostly insects and spiders.  Waste grain will be taken if available, and occasionally they may feed on small fruits and berries.


Does most of its foraging on the ground, but will also forage in shrubbery and underbrush, as well as in lower levels of trees. While pairs are intolerant of other Chipping Sparrows during the breeding season, they will form loose flocks in migration and in winter.


Mid-May through Mid-August. The nest of a Chipping Sparrow is a small cup, built in thick vegetation, and placed between 3 and 15 feet from the ground. The female alone builds the nest, constructed of grasses, weeds, roots, and other vegetative material. She lays between 2 and 6 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The young hatch after about 12-14 days, and fledge from the nest about 2 weeks after hatching. Chipping Sparrows will often raise more than one brood each summer, if conditions are favorable.


The most common vocalization of a Chipping Sparrow is a repetitive, monotone trilling. The speed of the trilling may vary. Chip notes are also used as contact calls between birds,


Neotropical migrant, wintering in parts of the far southern U.S. through Mexico and Central America. In summer they are found throughout much of North America.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click for access to an interactive eBird map of Chipping Sparrow sightings

Similar Species:

With the bright rufous-colored crown of a breeding plumage bird, along with the other plumage patterns on the head, Chipping Sparrows are relatively distinctive during the summer months. Young birds and winter plumage birds are perhaps more likely to be confused with another sparrow species. Here are some other species that may cause identification issues:

Clay-colored Sparrow 8 - Spizella pallida American Tree Sparrow - Spizelloides arborea  Field Sparrow 13 - Spizella pusilla  Brewer's Sparrow 2 - Spizella breweri 
Clay-colored Sparrow American Tree Sparrow Field Sparrow Brewer's Sparrow

Bird Feeders:

Will attend feeders for various seeds and breadcrumbs.

Conservation Status: 

Chipping Sparrows are found across much of North America, and are quite common in many parts of their range. Breeding Bird Survey, Christmas Bird Count, and other records indicate the species is stable, or increasing in many areas. The IUCN considers the Chipping Sparrow to be a species of "least concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 26th, 2011 - Beaver Creek Nature Area near Brandon, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Chipping Sparrow photos.

Audio Clip Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Chipping Sparrow - Spizella passerina - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common and widespread summer breeder throughout South Dakota.

Additional Chipping Sparrow Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Chipping Sparrow 1 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 2 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 3 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 4 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 5 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 6 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 7 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 8 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 9 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 10 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 11 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 12 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 13 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 14 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 15 -  Spizella passerinaChipping Sparrow 16 -  Spizella passerina