Field Sparrow, Spizella pusilla

The Field Sparrow is distinctive among sparrows for having a bright pink bill. It breeds across the eastern United States and southern Canada and can be found in Tennessee throughout the year. It inhabits brushy pastures and second-growth scrub and is considered a partial migrant, because some individuals remain on or near the breeding grounds in winter, while others move farther south. During the non-breeding season, these sparrows usually forage in small flocks and feed primarily on grass seeds.

Description: This sparrow has a plain gray face with a rusty-brown streak behind the eye, a reddish cap, a thin white eye-ring, and a pink bill; the chest is pale gray and unstreaked, the back is rusty-brown, the wings have two thin white wing-bars, and the legs are pink. Juveniles (May-October) are duller in color, with narrow dusky streaking on the chest, sides, and crown. As with most sparrows, the male and female look alike. 

Length: 5.75"
Wingspan: 8"
Weight: 0.44 oz

Voice: The song is a series of plaintive whistles accelerating into a trill. The call is a rather weak chip.

Similar Species:

  • American Tree Sparrows, irregular winter visitors to Tennessee, have a dark upper bill, a distinct reddish eye-stripe, and a spot in the middle of its chest.
  • Chipping Sparrows have a dark line through the eye and a white or dusky line over the eye.

Habitat: Found year-round in brushy fields and forest edges.

Diet: Insects and small seeds.

Nesting and reproduction: In Tennessee, males start singing and defending territories in late March, and egg laying begins in mid-April. Nest success is low, with young fledging from only about a third of nests. Predation by snakes is a major cause of nest loss. Pairs re-nest rapidly after the loss of a nest and may raise as many as 3 broods in one season.

Clutch Size: Ranges from 2 to 5 eggs, with 3 to 5 most common.

Incubation: The female incubates the eggs for 11 to 12 days.

Fledging: Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest in 7 or 8 days, and remain with the adults for about 3 weeks.

Nest: The female builds the open cup-nest, which is constructed almost exclusively of grasses. Nests built early in the season, before the leafing out of many trees, tend to be close to the ground. Later nests are usually located higher up in shrubs or young trees. The first nest of the season is built in 4 to 5 days, later nests take only 2 to 3 days.

Status in Tennessee: The Field Sparrow is a common permanent resident across the state; numbers increase during the winter when more northerly breeding birds join the resident population. Field Sparrows are declining in Tennessee, as well as range-wide. This may be due to changes in their breeding habitat as shrubby old fields grow to forest or are cleared for agriculture or suburban growth.

Fun Facts:

  • Male Field Sparrows usually return to breed in the same territory each year. The female is less likely to return to the same territory, and young sparrows, unlike many birds, only rarely return the next year to the area where they were raised.
  • Field Sparrows often feed directly on fallen seeds. Sometimes they fly to the top of a grass stalk, letting their weight carry the stem to the ground, and begin removing the seeds.
  • The male Field Sparrow starts singing as soon as he obtains a territory in spring. He sing constantly until he attracts a mate, and then only sings infrequently.

Obsolete English Names: field chipping sparrow

Best places to see in Tennessee: old fields, scrubby open lands statewide.