SCIENTIFIC NAME: Spizella pusilla
DESCRIPTION: The field sparrow belongs to the order Passeriformes and is a member of the family Emberizidae, which includes buntings, finches, and sparrows. It is a medium-sized sparrow, five to six inches in length with a wingspan of eight inches and weighs 0.4 to 0.5 ounces. Males are slightly larger than females. Adults have brown upperparts, white wing bars, a rufous crown, and a buff color breast and belly. The field sparrow is best identified by its rusty crown, pink bill and legs, and white eye ring. Males and females have similar coloration. The song is a series of slurred notes of the same tone, increasing in rate until they become a trill.
DISTRIBUTION: The field sparrow breeds from eastern Montana, across the lake states to southern Maine and south from central Texas to Georgia and northwest Florida. Northern birds migrate and winter in the southern Unites States along the Gulf of Mexico and in northeastern Mexico.
HABITAT: Their breeding habitat is abandoned fields and open or cutover woodlands with tall grass, weeds and brush. During winter they prefer the same type of abandoned fields and shrub-scrub habitats.
FEEDING HABITS: The winter diet of field sparrows is about ninety percent seeds of grasses and weeds, mostly picked up from the ground. They may light on the top of grass stalks, carry the stems to the ground with their weight and remove the seed. During summer about half of the diet may be insects. Nestlings are fed insects and spiders.
LIFE HISTORY: Male field sparrows that survive the winter usually return to breed in the same territory as the previous year. Females are less likely to return to the same territory. The male sings vigorously from a perch such as a shrub or fencepost until he finds a mate, after which, they only sing occasionally. Field sparrows are monogamous.
A nest is built by the female on or near the ground in clumps of grass or at the base of a shrub. The nest is an open cup of coarse grass blades lined with finer grasses and hair.
The female lays three to five whitish to pale green eggs with brown spots. Incubation, by the female, lasts 12 days. At hatching, the young are helpless and covered with only a few tufts of down. Both parents feed the nestlings that grow rapidly on a diet of insects. The young leave the nest after seven or eight days, but another week of growth is required for them to fly well. The pair may produce two broods during a breeding season. The female may begin a second nesting attempt, leaving the male to finish raising the first brood.
During fall and winter, field sparrows frequently gather in small flocks. They forage on the ground for seeds of grasses and weeds. When disturbed the flock will fly to the top of a nearby bush or low tree and perch close together to assess the threat.
Field sparrow numbers are declining throughout the species range due to losses of early succession habitats that consist of a mix of tall native grasses, broadleaf weeds, and brush.
Carey, M., D. Burhans, and D. Nelson. 1994. Field Sparrow. In The Birds of North America, A. Poole and F. Gill, eds. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.
Robbins, C., B. Bruun, and H. Zim. 1966. Birds of North America. Golden Press, New York, N. Y.
AUTHOR: Stan Stewart, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, January 2006