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Field Sparrow

Spizella pusilla

Length: 5.5 to 6 inches Wingspan: 8.5 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Rusty cap, pink bill, faint white eye-ring, faint brown streak behind each eye.

Field Sparrow - Spizella pusillaThe Field Sparrow is a small, long-tailed sparrow of brushy fields and shrublands.  Their energetic songs can be heard on even the hottest of days when most other birds are temporarily dormant. They have greatly benefited from man's forest clearing activities, as the brushy second-growth forest is the perfect habitat for them.  Numbers of Field Sparrows exploded across the eastern United States as deforestation removed the thick, nearly continuous forest cover in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As forests grew back, numbers declined, but given the amount of scrubby second-growth forest and brushy fields associated with human activity, numbers are still likely higher than they were prior to European settlement of North America. In South Dakota, they are primarily found in the southeastern part of the state, although scattered populations can be found in suitable locations elsewhere in the state as well.


Prefers open areas with scattered brush or other taller cover, such as brushy fields, hedgerows and fencelines.  They will sometimes be found along woodland edges as long as open areas are adjacent to the woodland.


The majority of the summer diet is insects and spiders, along with seeds.  The majority of the winter diet is seeds.


Field Sparrows typically forage low in brush or other vegetation, or on the ground.  Males are very frequent singers from higher perches, however, as they defend territory.


June and July. The nest of a Field sparrow is built by the female who uses grasses to weave a small cup, and then lines it with finer grasses, fur, feathers, and/or rootlets. It is often placed on the ground at the base of a shrub or hummock of grass, but may also be placed in the low branches of a shrub.  The female lays 2 to 5 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The eggs hatch after 12-15 days.


The song is unmistakable, a series of soft, melodic monotone notes that gain in speed as the song progresses. The call note is a short, very muted tsit.


They are permanent residents throughout much of the eastern United States.  Birds towards the northern end of their range, such as those in the Dakotas, do migrate southward in the winter.  

Interactive eBird map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Field Sparrow sightings

Similar Species:

 Field Sparrows have a very simple plumage pattern, which distinguishes from many sparrow species that have extensive streaking or very strong facial markings. Here are the species most likely to be confused with a Field Sparrow:

Chipping Sparrow 14 -  Spizella passerina Chipping Sparrow 3 -  Spizella passerina American Tree Sparrow - Spizelloides arborea White-crowned Sparrow - Zonotrichia leucophrys
Chipping Sparrow Chipping Sparrow American Tree Sparrow White-crowned Sparrow

Conservation Status:

Numbers increased greatly following European colonization, due to clearing of forest lands.  Numbers have declined over the past century as forest areas have regrown. Still very common in parts of its range, and found over a broad geographic area. The IUCN considers the Field Sparrow to be a species of "Least Concern".

Bird Feeders:

Will occasionally attend feeders for various small grains.

South Dakota "HotSpot":

They are common in suitable habitat in the southeastern part of South Dakota.  They like brushy areas, often in semi-open areas though like brushy fields or grassy areas with scattered small trees.  I always find them in good numbers in the Big Sioux Recreation Area in Brandon every summer.  The grassy area with scattered brush and trees near the park entrance always holds Field Sparrows in the summer, and you can't help but hear their songs as you walk through the park.  Newton Hills State Park also always holds Field Sparrows in the summer. The "Horse Camp" area and the nearby scattered sumac and cedars always hold summer breeding birds, as do select other areas of the park with sumac or other shrubs.

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 5th, 2016 - Newton Hills State Park, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

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

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Field Sparrow - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident in the southeast part of the state; rare to uncommon elsewhere in the summer.

Additional Field Sparrow Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Field Sparrow 1 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 2 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 3 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 4 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 5 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 6 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 7 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 8 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 9 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 10 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 11 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 12 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 13 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 14 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 15 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 16 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 17 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 18 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 19 - Spizella pusillaField Sparrow 20 - Spizella pusilla