Birds – Chipping Sparrow

(Spizella socialis) Finch family


Length—5 to 5.5 inches. An inch shorter than the English sparrow.

Male—Under the eye, on the back of the neck, underneath, and on the lower back ash gray. Gray stripe over the eye, and a blackish brown one apparently through it. Dark red-brown crown. Back brown, slightly rufous, and feathers streaked with black. Wings and tail dusty brown. Wing-bars not conspicuous. Bill black.

Female—Lacks the chestnut color on the crown, which is streaked with black. In winter the frontlet is black. Bill brownish.

Range—North America, from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Mexico and westward to the Rockies. Winters in Gulf States and Mexico. Most common in eastern United States.

Migrations—April. October. Common summer resident, many birds remaining all the year from southern New England southward.

Who does not know this humblest, most unassuming little neighbor that comes hopping to our very doors ; this mite of a bird with ” one talent ” that it so persistently uses all the day and every day throughout the summer ? Its high, wiry trill, like the buzzing of the locust, heard in the dawn before the sky grows even gray, or in the middle of the night, starts the morning chorus; and after all other voices are hushed in the evening, its tremolo is the last bed-song to come from the trees. But how-ever monotonous such cheerfulness sometimes becomes when we are surfeited with real songs from dozens of other throats, there are long periods of midsummer silence that it punctuates most acceptably.

Its call-note, chip ! chip! from which several of its popular names are derived, is altogether different from the trill which must do duty as a song to express love, contentment, everything that so amiable a little nature might feel impelled to voice.

But with all its virtues, the chippy shows lamentable weakness of character in allowing its grown children to impose upon it, as it certainly does. In every group of these birds throughout the summer we can see young ones (which we may know by the black line-stripes on their breasts) hopping around after their parents, that are often no larger or more able-bodied than they, and teasing to be fed; drooping their wings to excite pity for a helplessness that they do not possess when the weary little mother hops away from them, and still persistently chirping for food until she weakly relents, returns to them, picks a seed from the ground and thrusts it down the bill of the sauciest teaser in the group. With two such broods in a season the chestnut feathers on the father’s jaunty head might well turn gray.

Unlike most of the sparrows, the little chippy frequents high trees, where its nest is built quite as often as in the low bushes of the garden. The horse-hair, which always lines the grassy cup that holds its greenish-blue, speckled eggs, is alone responsible for the name hair-bird, and not the chippy’s hair-like trill, as some suppose.