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Number of species: 79

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Chipping Sparrow - Spizella passerina

Chipping Sparrow has a partial preformative molt, and limited prealternate molts that are largely restricted to feathers on the head. Rectrix shape and feather wear can vary considerably within age classes, and therefore molt limits are generally the best clue for ageing. However, these can also be indistinct, and especially by spring, some intermediates may need to be considered M-FCA (AHY). Although females are on average slightly duller in plumage, sex is reliably determined only via brood patch / cloacal protuberance during the breeding season.

Juvenile plumage is very similar to that of Clay-colored Sparrow; exercise caution where ranges overlap. Chipping Sparrow tends to be larger, has a proportionately shorter tail, and somewhat more distinct streaking on the breast.

Quick tips

  • Check the wing for molt limits - a contrast between darker/fresher greater coverts vs. the paler block of primary coverts, primaries, and secondaries is indicative of FCF/FCA (HY/SY), while the wing is more uniform in colour and wear on DCB/DCA (AHY/ASY) birds.
  • Examine the shape and condition of the rectrices - they tend to be narrower and more pointed on FCF/FCA (HY/SY) birds, and by spring also tend to be more visibly frayed / worn, while DCB/DCA (AHY/ASY) birds have somewhat broader rectrices that typically show only moderate wear by spring.

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory (2016). Last updated by Marcel Gahbauer (Mar 2022)

The molt categories displayed below may be filtered by month.

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Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.

Individuals not in molt

FCJ - (HY: May - November)
Crown and breast finely streaked
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2640-18635-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1836.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2640-18635-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1838.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2640-18635-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1837.jpg
FCF - (HY: July - December; SY January - March)
Rectrices all narrow and pointed, or with contrastingly fresh and broad central rectrices; greater coverts and tertials slightly darker and fresher than primary coverts, primaries, and secondaries
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2640-15389-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1833.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2640-15389-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1835.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2640-15389-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1834.jpg
FCA - (SY: March - September)
Rectrices all narrow and pointed, or with contrastingly fresh and broad central rectrices; greater coverts and tertials slightly to considerably darker and fresher than primary coverts, primaries, and secondaries
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2430-42691-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1839.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2430-42691-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1841.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2430-42691-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1840.jpg
DCB - (AHY: July - December; ASY January - March)
Rectrices uniformly broad and rounded; wing largely uniform in colour and wear, with primary coverts only slightly lighter than greater coverts
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2650-43674-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1827.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2650-43674-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1829.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2650-43674-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1828.jpg
DCA - (ASY: March - September)
Rectrices uniformly broad and rounded; wing largely uniform in colour and wear, with primary coverts only slightly lighter than greater coverts
U
Thumbnail - MG2-2460-40490-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1830.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2460-40490-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1832.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2460-40490-Spizella_passerina_AOU_7_52-1831.jpg

Individuals in active molt

FPJ - (HY: May - September)
Crown and breast finely streaked; some natal down remaining
No images available yet
FPF - (HY: July - November)
Similar to FCF; median and greater coverts and tertials being replaced; sometimes one or both central rectrices being replaced
No images available yet
FPA - (SY: March - April)
Similar to FCF; some head feathers being replaced
No images available yet
SPB - (SY: July - October)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained rectrices or outer primaries and primary coverts distinctly juvenile (pale brown and very worn)
No images available yet
DPB - (AHY: July - October)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained rectrices or outer primaries and primary coverts either distinctly adult (relatively dark, less worn, somewhat broad and rounded) or intermediate
No images available yet
DPA - (ASY: March - April)
Similar to DCB; some head feathers being replaced
No images available yet

Applicable unknown plumage/age classes

Molt classes Age Months Key traits
M-FPF / UPU (FPF, SPB, DPB) U July - October Undergoing preformative or prebasic molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCF / UCU (FCF, SCB, DCB) U/AHY July - March In formative or basic plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FPA / UPA (FPA, DPA) AHY March - April Undergoing prealternate molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCA / UCA (FCA, DCA) AHY March - September In alternate plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable

Number of species: 79

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