Bird GuideNew World SparrowsAmerican Tree Sparrow

At a Glance

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.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Tundra and Boreal Habitats, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats, Undulating

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


5 1/2-6 1/2" (14-17 cm). Rusty cap, two-toned bill, dark chest spot, two white wing-bars. Compare to other reddish-capped species, such as Chipping and Field Sparrows. Swamp Sparrow is chunky, more secretive, lacks white wing-bars.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

1 or 2 clear notes followed by a sweet, rapid warble. Winter feeding call a silvery tsee-ler.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Whistle


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.



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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the American Tree Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the American Tree Sparrow

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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