Though they are some of our smallest sparrows, chipping sparrows make themselves heard in spring and summer with a ringing song that belies their size. While many sparrows prefer grassland or shrubland habitat, chipping sparrows are forest dwellers, and as such are most commonly encountered foraging near the edge of a wooded area.
Chipping sparrows are small sparrows (less than 6” from bill to tail) with chestnut caps and completely unmarked undersides. Their faces are cleanly outlined by a white eyebrow-stripe and a black line through the eye itself. No other sparrow in our area has these characteristics. Young chipping sparrows may have streaky breasts and bellies, but their small size and the frequent presence of nearby adults aid identification.
Like most sparrows, chipping sparrows are ground feeders, but they are usually found in very different habitat from other common species like song sparrows and the introduced house sparrow. Chipping sparrows are often seen pecking through the leaf litter or brush on a road or path at the edge of the woods. If approached, rather than scattering for the trees, “chippies” will sometimes repeatedly fly further along the path and land again. Chipping sparrow song is a single trill of rapid notes on one pitch; it can be difficult to separate from the songs of pine warbler and dark-eyed junco even at the best of times.
Chipping sparrows are common and widespread breeding birds in wooded and suburban areas across the state. They are also common migrants, but are rarely encountered in winter, when they are replaced by the larger American tree sparrow for the most part. Even so, more Chipping sparrows are overwintering in the Bay State each year, especially on Cape Cod where the winters are milder. Learn more in our Breeding Bird Atlas 2