Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

American Tree Sparrow

Spizelloides arborea

This sparrow nests and winters farther north than any of its close relatives. Despite the name, it is not particularly associated with trees, and many of its nesting areas are on the tundra north of treeline. In winter in the northern states, flocks of Tree Sparrows are common in open country. They often come to bird feeders with Dark-eyed Juncos and other birds. Males may begin singing their musical songs in late winter, before they start their northward migration.
Conservation status Abundant and widespread. Most nesting areas are remote from human disturbance. Wintering numbers in some areas are thought to have declined, but no evidence of decrease in total population
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Arctic scrub, willow thickets; in winter, brushy roadsides, weedy edges, marshes. In summer most common near treeline, where northern forest gives way to tundra. May be in openings in stunted spruce forest, or on open tundra if a few taller shrubs are present. In winter in open fields, woodland edges, marshes, suburban areas.
This sparrow nests and winters farther north than any of its close relatives. Despite the name, it is not particularly associated with trees, and many of its nesting areas are on the tundra north of treeline. In winter in the northern states, flocks of Tree Sparrows are common in open country. They often come to bird feeders with Dark-eyed Juncos and other birds. Males may begin singing their musical songs in late winter, before they start their northward migration.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult
  • immature (1st winter)
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages on ground or in low bushes, sometimes in trees up to 30' or more above ground. Except when nesting, usually forages in small flocks.


Eggs

4-6, usually 5. Pale bluish or greenish, with brownish spotting often concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female, 11-13 days; male visits nest often, but does not incubate. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest at age 8-10 days, when flight feathers not yet fully grown. Parents may lure them away from nest by offering food. Young are able to fly at about 14-15 days after hatching; parents continue to feed them for about 2 more weeks. 1 brood per season, but may attempt to renest if 1st attempt fails.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest at age 8-10 days, when flight feathers not yet fully grown. Parents may lure them away from nest by offering food. Young are able to fly at about 14-15 days after hatching; parents continue to feed them for about 2 more weeks. 1 brood per season, but may attempt to renest if 1st attempt fails.

Diet

Seeds and insects. Diet in winter is almost entirely seeds, from grasses, weeds, and other plants; also a few insects and berries. In summer eats mostly insects and other small invertebrates, plus a few seeds. Young are fed mostly insects.


Nesting

Pairs form shortly after birds arrive on breeding grounds. Male actively defends territory, chasing away other members of same species. Nest site is on or near ground, in grass clumps beneath shrubs. Sometimes on hummock in open tundra; rarely up to 4' above ground in willow or spruce. Nest is an open cup of twigs, grasses, moss, lined with fine grass and with feathers (usually ptarmigan feathers). Female builds nest in about 7 days.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

All wintering areas are well to the south of breeding areas. Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring. Apparently migrates mainly at night. On average, females winter somewhat farther south than males.

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Migration

All wintering areas are well to the south of breeding areas. Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring. Apparently migrates mainly at night. On average, females winter somewhat farther south than males.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
1 or 2 clear notes followed by a sweet, rapid warble. Winter feeding call a silvery tsee-ler.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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