This sparrow’s breeding range extends throughout the U.S. and Canada, but it is uncommon in the southern Great Plains and the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. It winters in the southern U.S. and Mexico. The reddish cap, an unstreaked light gray breast, and black stripe through the eye are distinctive. Immature birds have dark streaks on their breasts and brownish caps. Males and females share similar coloration, though males are somewhat brighter colored and smaller in size. Chipping sparrows occur in diverse habitats, from coniferous forests to deciduous woodlands, shrubby thickets, and they are also common in residential areas and orchards.
Males will often be heard singing high in a tree near an open area or forest edge; their song is a rather dry, repetitive chipping that lasts 3-5 seconds. The pair builds a nest low in trees or shrubs, averaging about 8 feet above the ground. The fact that they often line their grass nests with hair from horses, dogs, or other mammals, has led to a nickname of “hair bird.” Both parents feed the young and they produce two clutches per year. The adult female sometimes will beg for food from the male like a young bird.
Chipping sparrows commonly forage on the ground for a variety of foods, including seeds, fruits, and insects. Cowbirds are known to parasitize chipping sparrow nests, laying one or more eggs in the nest. Chipping sparrows will sometimes abandon a nest with cowbird eggs in it, thus causing failure of reproduction for both species. The Audubon Society reports that chipping sparrow populations are stable but vulnerability status is moderate, due to habitat losses in New Mexico and parts of the western U.S., as well as widespread habitat reductions in eastern and Midwestern states.
Photos taken by James Taulman at Oak Flat recreation area, Cibola National Forest, Tijeras, NM. Nikon P900 camera.