Chipping Sparrows are the summertime friends of every gardener, orchardist, and vintner. Their appetite for insects and the seeds of many weeds and grasses make them true allies in any agricultural enterprise. One of their choice foods are the seeds of crabgrass…help yourself guys!
We tend to think of sparrow species as associated with open vegetation. Chipping Sparrows have an interesting variation of this theme. Unlike many other sparrow species, Chippies prefer to nest in thin stands of conifers, around interior forest openings, and along the edges of woodlots. But they travel from these sites to open grassy fields and lawns to forage for food. As Americans spread to the “exurbs,” we create habitat that is perfectly suited to Chipping Sparrows. Populations are stable and they are presently well established around farms, and in towns and villages across much of the country.
It is easy to spot a Chippy as it forages around your yard. Their plumage is beautiful: starting with a reddish-brown crown, then white supercilium (eyebrow), then black eyeline, grey cheeks, white throat, and clear, pale, grey breast. These solid colors are counterpointed with a back and wings crisply colored in brown, tan, and white. Chipping Sparrows have a neatly tailored look. The song of the Chippy is a loud, nonmusical trill sung on a single pitch.
Eastern Chipping Sparrows migrate south, spending winters in the southeast. It is spring and summer when we find them helping with the gardening chores. When a glance toward the feeders shows a rufous-crowned sparrow, if it is warm weather think Chippy, if it is winter think American Tree Sparrow. Then check the other field marks to confirm your identification.
Chipping Sparrows supplement their diet of native seeds by regularly visiting ground feeders. They readily consume millet, milo, and cracked corn. A platform feeder stocked with Aspen Song® Value Blend is a great way to entertain these symbols of gardening pleasure.
Middleton, Alex L. 1998. Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.