The Chipping Sparrow

Jack Blomberg

Partner: Jacob Goebel

Blog Post #1 Final Draft

The Chipping Sparrow, unlike many other sparrows which tend to live in grassland communities, prefers to live in the open woodlands, the borders of natural forest openings, edges of rivers and lakes, and fields characterized by a lot of brush and weeds. It prefers to nest in the groves and open glades of any coniferous forest. It usually forages in brushy open areas. These habitats can often be characterized as human-modified, which make this type of sparrow a common sight for bird watchers and observers. In the summer, the Chipping Sparrow can commonly be found in towns and gardens and in more isolated human habitats in North America. At first, Chipping Sparrows were thought to be a typically territorial and monogamous species, but after recent studies, it was discovered that once nesting has begun, male birds tend to move through neighboring territories of other Chipping Sparrows, where they socially interact and mate with several different females. That being said, it is not conclusive whether all individuals have extra pair mating is characteristic of Chipping Sparrows. Much more DNA analysis and including DNA-fingerprinting would be required to fully discover their social nature and genetic mating system.

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The breeding limits of the Chipping Sparrow range from central Yukon, central Mackenzie, n. Manitoba, n. Ontario , south central Quebec, and the southern tip of Newfoundland to territories north of Mexico, and west to east central Alaska, southeast Alaska, and most of Pacific Coast from northern British Columbia to southern California.

During its Spring and Fall migration, the Chipping Sparrow can be found commonly in grassy areas, old weedy fields, and along hedgerows. It is less commonly found in desert scrub, sagebrush scrub, and chaparral, even near oases, and also on mountain tops and can be found in the backyards of suburban houses. They tend to get attracted to feeders in early spring and late fall, but are rarely spotted in large flocks. During the winter however, the Chipping Sparrow is commonly found in oak savanna or oak-juniper woodlands, orchards, ranch yards, oak woods, weedy fields, and habitats with scattered trees. In the winter, the Chipping Sparrow distribution may be influenced by competition with the American Tree Sparrow, as Chipping Sparrows are often found where the Tree Sparrow is absent during the winter.



Chipping Sparrow Foraging for food

The Chipping Sparrow generally eats seeds, grasses and various yearly plants. Although it is not common, it also tends to supplement its diet with berries and other small fruits. During breeding season, the bird adds insects and other invertebrates to its diet. It consumes grit on a regular basis and will even feed it to its offspring. It feeds on the ground or in low vegetation and is usually observed feeding in open areas. This includes lawns, brush piles, hedgerows, forest litter, and fallow fields that are close in proximity to cover. It usually forages by hopping or running, while stopping frequently to search plant debris in order to find fallen seeds, invertebrates and grit. It will also eat ripened seed heads of low grasses and weed plants directly if it has to. On occasion it will reach out from its perch in brush piles, fallen trees, low shrubs and even barbed wire by eating seeds straight from the tips of stems. It actively hunts for insects just above ground, peering deep into vegetation. It rarely ever stands in the same spot for more than 10 seconds as it forages. When it finds its prey, it will leave its perch and catch the insect in its bill or even on the inside of its wings. The Chipping Sparrow’s feeding behavior is largely dictated by seasons.

During the non-breeding season, the Chipping Sparrow will forage in flocks. In the fall however, it tends to forage much more independently. During the breeding season, it is often spotted breeding independently or in pairs. As the male becomes more involved with nest duties, its song activity decreases and its foraging activity increases. As for females, when nesting duties become more prominent, they will forage less frequently and spend more time with the nest and her eggs. After hatching, both the male and the female tend to spend most of their time foraging for their offspring. During the winter, some Chipping Sparrows survive by continually returning to feeding stations and share its habitat with other sparrow species. Males tend to establish territories shortly after mating by creating borders. It will move from perch to perch within its territory, singing its song to establish these borders. The perches visited by the Chipping Sparrow during its birdsong often create a territorial border. Territory is maintain primarily through song but threat display is often used with foreigners begin to get to close to territorial borders.

When the Chipping Sparrow is migrating from closed habitat to closed habitat, flights are short and direct. Over open ground however, flight can be characterized as rapid, direct, and undulating in rhythm. This includes short burst of flapping followed by a short pause in wing flapping. It can fly up to speeds pf 22-32 km/h. When it is on the ground, it hops. The behavior of the Chipping Sparrow when not in flight includes the scratching of its head, bathing in shallow streams, rain pools and bird baths. This species tends to enter water very tentatively, act as if it were about to drink the water and then enters the water, stopping belly deep. The it usually tilts its wet breast feathers forward, spreads its tail, flaps its wings rapidly to throw water over its entire body. Finally, it leaves the water taking nearby cover, where it flicks off its excess water and will then begin to preen.



Threatened Chipping Sparrow

When the Chipping Sparrow is threatened, it tends to lower its head, open its bill, drop its wings, raise its feathers and pivot from side to side aggressively. It will also begin its threat calls. It will directly face its aggressor and may even hop towards him or her. When the bird gets in a fight, it may be on the ground or in the air. These birds will either jockey around its enemy with its wings drooped and bills open wide. It will also briefly chase its enemy with agile maneuvers. This is followed by head to head flight with rapid wing-fluttering and bill sparring. In this sequence, the birds will attack each other with ferocious pecks and heavy wing contact from time to time, as they chase each other mid-air. They are usually separated during these fights but from time to time they may end up in a grapple with their opponent. Fights usually only last a few seconds and end with an escape by the loser.




Chipping Sparrow Mating

The Chipping Sparrow was widely known to be monogamous but polygamy has been documented in certain areas in very low frequency. It is not entirely known whether these birds are truly monogamous by nature or not. Pairs tend to form right after territories are established. Courthship is characterized by song, accompanied by short chases of the female which nearly mimics components of threat display. The pair are close in proximity at all times and both begin to collect nest material in unison. The song production reduces remarkably once the pair forms. During the nest-building and egg-laying stages, the male will stay in close contact with the female, which is a form of mate-guarding.

When the female is ready to mate, she will assume a crouched position with its head and tail raised and wings vibrating rapidly. The male will approach and hover over the female for a short period of time. Then he will mount her with rapidly beating wings. During mating, a series of rapid see-see-see-see calls are produced by the female. This will be repeated several times, with each attempt only lasting seconds.

During the breeding season, individuals do not tolerate intruders that are not family. During non-breading season, large flocks of adults and young are commonly found together. In the winter, the Chipping Sparrow forages in mixed-species flocks.

The predators of the Chipping Sparrow’s nest contents include the Black Rate Snake, Eastern Milk Snake, Blue Racer, Eastern Garter Snake, Common Crow, Blue Jay, and Domestic Cat. Predators of adult Chipping Sparrows are Cooper’s Hawk, Prairie Falcon, American Kestrel, Loggerhead Shrike, Red Squirrel, Thirteen-Lined ground Squirrel and Domestic Cat. In response to their predators, the Chipping Sparrow will use threat displays and alarm calls. This behavior will often attract attention to other species, which will help to scare the predator. The female will also tend to give a distraction display, where it tumbles from its nest and flutters along the ground.

Sources: Cornell Lab or Ornithology:


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2 Responses to The Chipping Sparrow

  1. bkdunn says:

    I have a nest of chipping sparrows that appeared in a blue point juniper I planted in my backyard in March. The distraction displays the mother puts on when I spend too long deadheading flowers back there are awesome (and kind of hilarious, although I feel a little bad for causing the bird such stress). She “falls” out of the nest, hobbles around on the ground like her wing is broken, and chirps like crazy to make sure she has my attention. If I don’t give it to her right away, she’ll flash into my line of sight and keep trying to lead me away from the nest (I think she gets a little confused about what to do once we make it to the fence).

    Anyway — thanks for the post. Hopefully this family comes back again next year, they’ve been fun to observe.


  2. Ismi says:

    i never see it truly , but i always see it in the television 😀

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