Chipping Sparrow
Spizella passerina  

by Michael B. Hambrick 

Spizella passerina is the scientific name for the Chipping Sparrow.  It belongs to Kingdom: Animalia (Animals), Phylum: Chordata (Chordates), Class: Aves (Birds), Order: Passeriformes (Perching Birds), Family: Emberizidae (New World Sparrows).  The Chipping Sparrow is rather small, with its length ranging from 12-14 cm.  The adult breeding bird has a gray face and a rusty-brown crown, with a white eye line and black streak through its eye.  The wings and tail are spotted browns with two white wing bars.  The breast and belly are grayish-white, and the bill is dark. During the cold months the Chipping Sparrow’s colors are duller and the bill is pinkish with a dark tip.

The Chipping Sparrow was named for its song, a series of chipping sounds that is usually sung from high atop the trees. There are five kinds of calls that the chipping Sparrow uses: contact calls, alarm calls, threat calls, fighting calls, courtship and copulation calls.  All of the calls are a combination of different sounds the bird makes.

The bird’s habitat was originally from the edges of clearings and brushy forests and in dry open woodlands, but its habitat is being lost.  This forces the wild bird into areas inhabited by man.  The bird has adapted well to human-made environments as they are widespread and relatively common in the whole United States, and around the Northern Hemisphere.  In the days of John James Audubon (1785-1851) the chipping Sparrow was one of the most prominent species in the United States.  But at the turn of the century, an extravagant drop in the population of Chipping Sparrows in towns occurred.  It was speculated that the drop was due to a competition with the increasingly common House Sparrow that came from Europe. 

Chipping Sparrows build their nest about 9 to 15 feet above the ground usually.  The nests are constructed during the beginning of breeding season and take about 3 to 4 days to complete.  The male retrieves the building material and sings while the female puts it all together. The Chipping Sparrow has received the nickname of “hair bird”, because most of the lining in their nests is horse hair.  In the cities, where horse hair is not readily available, they have been forced to be less discriminating of what they use in the nests.

The Chipping Sparrow can be found just about anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.  The bird is very common and easily recognized.  I visited Wildwood Park and I believe that I saw 2 of them within 20 minutes of being there.

Written spring 2004, as a service learning project for Dr. Gary Coté's Biology 102 class at Radford University.  Copyright Pathways for Radford.

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