Illustration by Diane Pierce
In migration and winter, the field sparrow forms small pure flocks (5–50 birds); it may also mix with other sparrows. It usually gives its flight call when flushed, typically employing a bounding flight to fly up ahead and drop back in the grass or fly into a hedgerow. Flocks will often gather in the same tree or bush to investigate a disturbance. Polytypic. Length 5.6" (14 cm).
Identification Entirely pink bill is distinctive. Gray face with reddish crown, distinct white eye ring, and indistinct reddish eye line. Back is streaked except on gray-brown rump. Rich buffy-orange unstreaked breast and sides; grayish white belly; pink legs. Juvenile: streaked below; buffy wing bars.
Geographic Variation Two subspecies show well-marked variation in measurements and overall coloration. The nominate breeds roughly east from the eastern Dakotas and eastern Texas; arenacea breeds to the west. The longer-tailed arenacea is larger, paler, and grayer; pusilla is especially rufous on the auriculars, buffier below, and richer above.
Similar Species The American tree is most similar but has a 2-toned bill and a black central breast spot. The breeding-plumaged chipping shares the rufous cap but has a dark eye line, is plain gray below without buff on the breast or flanks, has a dark bill, and lacks the bold eye ring. See also the Worthen’s.
Voice Call: a high, sharp chip, similar to the call of the orange-crowned warbler. Flight note: high, loud tseees. Song: a series of clear, plaintive whistles accelerating into a trill.
Status and Distribution Fairly common. Winters south to extreme northeast Mexico. Migration: spring mid-March–early May, peaking mid-April; fall early September–late October. Rare migrant in east Colorado and Maritimes. Breeding: open, brushy woodlands, power-line cuts, overgrown fields. Winter: prefers open fields with tall grass, often near hedgerows. Vagrant: casual to Newfoundland. Casual to accidental west of mapped range as far as California.
Population Stable, but shrubby field habitat being developed.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006
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