At a Glance
The plaintive whistled song of the Field Sparrow often can be heard in brushy pastures, even on hot summer days when most birds are silent. Despite the name, this is not one of the sparrows inhabiting open fields of grass; it prefers brushy places, overgrown meadows with many bushes. It looks distinctively small and long-tailed, and its plain face gives it an innocent expression to match the sweetness of its song. In winter, Field Sparrows gather in small flocks.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Partial migrant. Northernmost breeders move south in fall; southern breeders may move only short distance or may be permanently resident. In spring in northern areas, males arrive 2-3 weeks before females.
5 1/4" (13 cm). Rusty cap, pink bill, faint whitish eye-ring, pale rusty eyeline. Plain face gives it an innocent" expression. Looks long-tailed for its size. Chipping Sparrow in winter may have pink bill, but has stronger dark eyeline.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Gray, Pink, Red, Tan, White
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
A series of soft, plaintive notes, all on the same pitch, accelerating to a trill at the end.
Chirp/Chip, Trill, Whistle
Bushy pastures, brush, scrub. Found at all seasons in brushy overgrown fields, second growth, woodland edges, hedgerows in open country. Sometimes around brushy edges of marshes. Does not usually live in wide-open grassy fields unless they contain scattered shrubs.
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3-5, rarely 2-6. Whitish to pale bluish white, with brownish spots often concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female only, 10-12 days, rarely up to 17 days in cold spring. Nests parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds are often deserted. Young: Both parents feed young. Female may begin a 2nd nesting attempt, leaving male to finish rearing 1st brood. If disturbed, young may leave nest as early as 5 days after hatching, more typically 7-8 days. Remain in low vegetation near nest site for several days; able to fly at age 13-14 days. Parents continue to feed them for about another 2 weeks. If nesting interrupted by predators or other disturbance, pairs quickly attempt to renest; one persistent female in Illinois made 10 nesting attempts in 1 season. If nesting successful, 2 broods per season, sometimes 3.
Both parents feed young. Female may begin a 2nd nesting attempt, leaving male to finish rearing 1st brood. If disturbed, young may leave nest as early as 5 days after hatching, more typically 7-8 days. Remain in low vegetation near nest site for several days; able to fly at age 13-14 days. Parents continue to feed them for about another 2 weeks. If nesting interrupted by predators or other disturbance, pairs quickly attempt to renest; one persistent female in Illinois made 10 nesting attempts in 1 season. If nesting successful, 2 broods per season, sometimes 3.
Forages on ground or in low vegetation. When feeding on grass seeds, will fly up to perch on grass stems, bending them to ground.
Seeds and insects. Diet is more than 90% seeds in winter, mainly small seeds of grasses. Also eat many grass seeds in summer, but insects make up more than 50% of summer diet. Nestlings are fed spiders and insects, especially caterpillars, with many grasshoppers fed to larger young.
Male defends nesting territory by singing persistently. Adults with young may put on "broken-wing" act at approach of danger. Nest site on or near the ground in clumps of grass, or in dense low bushes or saplings. Early nests generally on or near ground, later nests often higher. Nest is open cup woven of grasses, lined with finer plant material and hair. Female builds nest, although male may bring nest material.
Population probably increased with clearing of forest following European settlement of North America. Today widespread and abundant, although surveys show overall decline in recent decades.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Field Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Field 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.