The chipping sparrow is fairly easy to identify, if just by the size alone.

They are among the smallest sparrows and are about the size of tufted titmice.

They will visit residential yards — especially if trees are nearby — and you may have seen them at your feeding stations.

Now, some bird organizations list the chipping sparrow as breeding in the eastern half of Oklahoma, which includes the Ada area. Others list it as breeding only in the eastern fifth of the state.

I don’t know for certain that the chipping sparrow breeds in the area, but I have seen them here in mid- to late-May, which would indicate that they do.

Also, the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge near Lawton has them as nesting on the refuge, so I think we’re good.

I can say for sure they are more common in Oklahoma during the fall and winter.

Description

The chipping sparrow is 4.5 to 6 inches in length. However, it has a fairly long tail.

It’s noticeably smaller than a house sparrow, and males and females are similar in appearance.

During the breeding season, adult chipping sparrows have a well-defined rusty-red crown, with thick white stripes above each eye, and black stripes which run from the beak through the eyes and to the back of the head. The breeding adults also have black beaks, which turn to a faded pink when not breeding.

After the breeding season, the cap turns brown, and the white stripes above the eyes usually become beige and the black stripes through the eyes get thinner (photo). However, I was surprised to see one this past January which still had fairly white stripes.

The caps on immature chipping sparrows are brown with noticeable black streaks and stripes. Juveniles also have a brown cap with black streaks, but, they have black streaks on their underparts. Those streaks fade when they become immature.

Similar species

When in non-breeding plumage, the closely related clay-colored sparrow is similar in appearance. However, the clay-colored sparrow, which is lighter in color overall, can be distinguished from the chipping sparrow by white stripes that run from the beak down the sides of its neck.

Clay-colored sparrows only pass through Oklahoma during spring and fall migrations and aren’t as apt to visit feeding stations. Also, clay-colored sparrows have a very thin dark line, but it only runs from the eye and back, not between the eye and the beak.

The field sparrow is relatively the same size as a chipping: however, field sparrows have a rusty crown with no facial stripes. Most importantly, field sparrows have well-defined white eye rings and a pinkish — almost orange — beak.

The American tree sparrow has a rusty cap but lacks the black stripe of the chipping and also has a yellow bottom portion of its beak and has dark legs and feet.

Habitat

Chipping sparrows can be seen in parks, residential yards, open woods with clearings, orchards, gardens and other semi-open areas.

Food

Chipping sparrows eat insects and seeds in the warmer months, but mostly seeds in the colder months. As I mentioned previously, the do visit feeders — but they prefer to eat on the ground — and are attracted to millet, cracked corn, sunflower seeds (especially hulled), nyjer and even milo. And, if the “coast is clear,” they will visit suet feeders.

Insects eaten by this sparrow include grasshoppers, beetles, leafhoppers, caterpillars and true bugs, to name a few. They also eat some spiders.

Range

The National Audubon Society lists the chipping sparrow as nesting in the eastern halves of Oklahoma and Kansas, along with the eastern third of Texas. It also nests in most eastern, northern and western states and well into Canada.

Nesting

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the female builds a flimsy nest while the male stands guard. Females are more particular about nest location and will often begin building a nest, only to abandon it for a better location.

They will lay from two to seven eggs. Incubation and nestling periods take about 10 days to two weeks each.

Odds and ends

• The chipping sparrow is named for its song — a rapid series of trill chips. To me, it sounds like “sip-sip-sip-sip-sip.”

• Sadly, chipping sparrow nests are often parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds.

Migration news

I would just like to let you know that there have been many sightings of summer birds — such as buntings and warblers — in south Texas. There have also been a few sightings in Oklahoma as well.

Spring migration has begun but won’t be in full swing for a couple of weeks.

There are numerous reports of ruby-throated hummingbirds along the coast, but their move north to Oklahoma may take a few weeks.

If you would, please send me an email when you see a summer bird and list the location. Thanks!

P.S. Daylight saving time for 2019 will begin at 2 a.m. Sunday, so don’t forget to set your clocks forward one hour before bed tonight!

Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for 40 years. Reach him at rnw@usa.com.