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Field Sparrow: Field Guide, Pictures, Habitat & Info

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field sparrow perching

The brilliant whistles of the Field Sparrow are a distinctive summer sound and are a backyard favorite. Their tiny bodies and warm-colored plumage can be seen merrily hopping around grasslands, pouncing on insects, and riding grass stems. The male is often seen perched on a branch, sharing his sweet trill while he calls for a mate.

While their numbers have shown a decline, they are still abundant and are easy to find. Backyard birders can effortlessly attract a visit from a Field Sparrow and will love hearing the sweet tune that will greet them in the morning.

hummingbird dividerQuick Facts about the Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

Image Credit: Pixabay

Habitat Grasslands with shrubs and low perches
Diet Seeds, grain, insects
Behavior Ground forager
Nesting Ground
Conservation Low concern
Scientific name Spizella Pusilla
Lifespan: 10 years old

Field Sparrow General Description

Field sparrows are small, dull brown birds with a reddish crown, grey face, and a white ring around the eye. Their back is streaked, and their chests are buffy and rusty colored with a greyish white belly. Their tails are long and forked with a pale gray edge, and their wings are brown with white bars. Their legs and bills are pink. Both males and females look similar, with the male being slightly bigger.

Field Sparrow: Range, Habitat, Behavior, Diet & Nesting

Range

The Field sparrow is found in eastern Canada and the eastern United States, with northern populations migrating south in the fall to the southern United States and Mexico.

Field Sparrow

Image Credit: Pixabay

Habitat

The Field Sparrow prefers open habitats with shrubs, grassland, and low perches, such as abandoned agricultural fields and pastures. Because the Field Sparrow requires singing perches, it prefers areas where half of the woody vegetation is taller than 5 feet. They can also be found on occasion in orchards and nurseries.

Field Sparrows avoid breeding close to where humans live. Their winter and summer habitation areas are similar, and during migration, they will occasionally appear in suburban yards.

Behavior

Field sparrows are ground foragers, and they are typically seen hopping about near shrubs foraging for seeds and insects. They may also pounce on insects from low perches. When they feed on grass seed heads, their behavior is very distinctive. When the sparrow is at the top of the grass stem, it uses its weight to lower the stem to the ground, where it will individually pluck out the seeds.

Males can be spotted arriving at their breeding grounds up to 20 days earlier and are often seen in disputes with other males as they try to establish their territory.

Field Sparrow

Image Credit: Pixabay

Diet

Field sparrows feed primarily on grass seeds in the winter, but because their bills are small, they are limited to smaller seeds. They transition to a mix of seeds and insects as the weather gets warmer, and by summer, insects make up half their diet.

Nesting

The female field sparrow will assess a few options for nesting sites before settling on one, which includes blackberry bushes, St. John’s wort, and honeysuckle, to name a few. Nests are commonly built on the ground in a clump of grass or at the base of a shrub in the spring, where they are less visible.

The female will build the nest on her own, but the male will help by offering nesting material. She will overlap grass stems to build the frame, then construct an open cup with finer grass and line it with grass and hair. A clutch size is about 1─5 eggs that are creamy white and spotted with gray, rusty brown, or lilac.

eagle dividerHow to Find Field Sparrows: Birdwatching Tips

What to Listen For

The easiest way to identify these birds is by their distinctive song, which is a soft whistling that gradually builds up to a trill. The birds take an average of 16–19 seconds between songs. The males are usually the whistlers as they use their song to attract a mate. The seep call is a single note, repeated every 0.5 seconds that is sung by both males and females and is used when flocks are foraging or migrating.

When their mates approach them with food while they are brooding, females make a cricket call.

Field Sparrow

Image Credit: Pixabay

What to Look For

These fairly common birds can be found in shrubby grasslands or overgrown, weedy fields. They are ground foragers, and they can be seen hopping around in search of insects and seeds. Males can be seen singing from prominent perches such as fence lines and the tops of small trees. During the winter and migration, they fly in mixed flocks, usually with other species of sparrows.

When to Look

Field Sparrows are easiest to find in the early morning of spring and summer but can be seen for the majority of the year.

Field Sparrow

Image Credit: Pixabay

Attracting Field Sparrows to Your Backyard: Tips & Tricks

Field Sparrows can easily be attracted to your backyard; they are not fussy eaters and are low maintenance. Follow these tips to attract these cute songbirds to your yard:

  • Field sparrows will enjoy sunflower seeds, millet, safflower seeds, oats, buckwheat, and cracked corn. They prefer to eat off the ground, and you can sprinkle treats across your lawn, near shrubby bushes, but only provide a little each day to prevent unwanted guests.
  • If you prefer to use a feeder, they will still visit, provided there is a good amount of surface area like a platform feeder can provide.
  • Field Sparrows consume plant matter as well. Gardeners who want to feed them should plant ornamental grasses and sunflowers as they produce an abundance of seeds for the birds.
  • Trees and shrubs will attract Field Sparrows during nesting season, and the adults will snack on insects and feed them to their young.
  • If your yard has plenty of nesting materials for Sparrows, they will be more likely to stay. Sparrows typically build their nests out of coarse dried vegetation as well as finer materials such as paper, string, feathers, and small twigs.
Field Sparrow

Image Credit: Pixabay

Field Sparrow Conservation: Is this Bird Threatened?

Although there has been a decline in population, they are still widespread and abundant. North American Breeding Survey shows a decrease of 2% per year between 1966 and 2019, with an overall decline of 69%. Field Sparrows are considered a species of low conservation concern. The main reason for the decline is habitat loss and degradation due to the clearing of forest lands.

hummingbird dividerConclusion

Field Sparrows are widespread and are easily recognized by their distinctive whistles. Birdwatchers will love how easy they are to spot, and bird enthusiasts will love how easily they can attract the sweet songbirds to their backyard. They forage on the ground for insects, seeds, and grain, hopping about while sometimes pouncing.

They prefer open woodlands that are covered and include a perching site for the vocal male to sing his song. Although their population has seen some decline due to habitat loss, they are still abundant and of low conservation concern.


Featured Image Credit: Frode Jacobsen, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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