Documentation of Chipping Sparrow

Observer Information

Reporter:  Ron Lambeth   
Other Observers:  Dave & Diane Trappett, Jeb Beagles

Species, Date, Time and Location Information

Species:  Chipping Sparrow
First Date/Time:  1/1/2015 12:30:00 PM
Last Date/Time:  1/1/2015 12:50:00 PM
Duration (total time in view):  20 minutes
County:  Mesa
Specific Location:  Location Not Listed
Number:  1
Age:  Immature
Sex:  Unknown
Plumage:  Non-breeding


Pinyon-juniper zone, rural, human structure

Viewing Conditions

Optics:  8x42 binocs to scope set to 45 power
Distance:  45 feet
Light:  bright sun and shade

Description of the Bird

Looks like photos of first winter chipping sparrows, rufous crown with fine black streaks, rich cream superciliary line and wing bar pair, some dark gray color in upper mandible, no detectible malar stripe, black eye-line passed through broken whitish eyering and continues faintly in lores; cheek patch dusky-colored; throat white, smooth gray side neck, very pale buff breast, whitish belly; back rich straw-colored with dark streaks; In the 16 degree fahrenheit weather, it was catching bugs warmed by the sun reflecting off the Georgia Mesa Fire Station door.

Similar Species Discussion

American Tree Sparrow was considered appropriate for the season and not so unlike this bird.  However, the thin black streaks in the crown, the lack of gray in the supercilliary line, the black instead of rufous color of the eyeline, the lack of while lines in back, presence of yellow in the upper mandible, the distinct cheek patch not the smooth gray of the adjacent side of neck, and the lack of a breast spot that we tried mightily to imagine there, led us to believe we didn't have a tree sparrow.

Clay-colored Sparrow was not considered likely since it is casual in western Colorado.  The crown likely would have had more of a center white stripe, a white malar and dark submalar stripe probably would have been visible, the eyeline wouldn't extend into the lore, and the cheek patch should have been richer and perhaps shown a darker proximal edge IF it had been a clay-colored sparrow.

We didn't consider any other sparrow or longspur because this bird looked so Spizella like.

Resources Used

Browsing photos of sparrows online
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America 6th edition
Byers, Curson and Olsson's Sparrows and bunting: a guide to the sparrows and buntings of North America and the World
Beadle and Rising's photo guide and illustrated guide (two books) to the sparrows of the United States and Canada
Floyd's Smithsonian Field Guide to the birds of North America
The Sibley Guide to Birds 2000 edition
and probably others

Previous Experience

I've been a lister since 1963.  However, my experience was obviously not good enough since I worked on the ID into the next day.  I've learned that the Rufous-winged Sparrow, a Spizella-looking sparrow, has the dark eyeline into the lores too (I'm just back from SE Arizona where I had a lot of opportunity for separating winter sparrows).  Chipping sparrows were among the most common species and a number of them were enough to make me wonder why I let winter and snow in western Colorado throw me off.


Notes made AFTER observation

Materials Available

Photographer: Dave Trappett

Photos |


Date Documentation Submitted

3/6/2015 5:08:00 PM
Click left or right edges of photos to move through all; click outside image to close

Location Map

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