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Chipping Sparrow - Spizella passerina

In Chipping Sparrows, 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 not all individuals can be aged reliably, especially in spring. 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 HY/SY, while the wing is more uniform in colour and wear on AHY/ASY birds
  • Examine the shape and condition of the rectrices - they tend to be narrower and more pointed on HY/SY birds, and by spring also tend to be more visibly frayed / worn, while AHY/ASY birds have somewhat broader rectrices that typically show only moderate wear by spring

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory

Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.
Age / Sex  Image sets 
Juvenile / Unknown
Breast covered with fine streaks; crown brown with no or few rufous feathers
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
Date: Aug 30
Hatch year / Unknown
Molt limit on wing, sometimes subtle, showing paler block of primary coverts, primaries, and secondaries; rectrices relatively narrow and pointed.
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
Date: Oct 8
After hatch year / Unknown
Wing largely uniform in colour and wear; rectrices relatively broad and rounded
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
Date: Sep 28
Second year / Unknown
Molt limit on wing showing paler block of primary coverts, primaries, and secondaries; rectrices relatively narrow, pointed, and worn; crown with some to many dark streaks.
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
Date: May 31
After second year / Unknown
Wing largely uniform in colour and wear; rectrices relatively broad and rounded; crown with few dark streaks
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
Date: May 10

Additional age / sex class descriptions

The following additional age / sex class descriptions were found for this species:
Age / Sex   Age / Sex class description
Number of species: 80

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