Chesapeake Bay Field Office
Northeast Region

Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla)

The field sparrow of eastern North America may not be the flashiest bird, but its song is bright and lively. Heard throughout the summer, the field sparrow’s song begins with a series of whistle accelerating until it’s more of a trill.  Both sexes are alike in plumage, rusty-brown on the back and crown with white to light gray breasts and distinctive bright pink bills.

Field Sparrow. Photo by Michael J. Hopiak
Field sparrow. Photo by Michcael J. Hopiak

As its name indicates this bird is found in brushy pastures, fields, and woodland edges. Unlike many other sparrow species, these birds avoid developed areas such as suburbs and do not breed near people. These environments provide the seeds that small flocks will forage in the winter in addition to the insects they eat during breeding season.

Field sparrows breed throughout southern Canada and much of the eastern United States including the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The nests, composed almost exclusively of grasses, are located near the ground in early spring, and in small saplings and shrubs as ground cover increases in height. Only females incubate eggs, but both sexes share in feeding of the young.

Field sparrows appear to be declining in numbers, most likely due to changes in their breeding habitat as shrubby fields succeed to forest or are cleared for farms or suburban development. Field sparrows do not breed in human-dominated landscapes, or mowed and tilled areas.  Based on Breeding Bird Survey data, significant declines, 3.2% per year, occurred in breeding populations between 1966 and 2003 and the species declined at a rate  >1.5% per year through most its range.

Suitable habitat - open areas with scattered woody vegetation- is critical to maintaining local populations. Protecting and managing existing successional habitats from development and agriculture as well as preventing open areas from transitioning into wooded areas are critical practices. In addition, successional habitat may need to be deliberately created on a regular basis for use by field sparrows. These habitat management activities are carefully designed and carried out by wildlife management professionals.

 

Some migratory birds in the Chesapeake Bay area:

Bald Eagle

Black Rail

Canada Goose

Canvasback

Cerulean Warbler

Field Sparrow

Great Blue Heron

Red Knot

Osprey

USFWS Office of Migratory Bird Management

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Last updated: January 28, 2011