How to Identify and Attract a Chipping Sparrow

Bring this cheerful, common summer bird species into your backyard with our top tips for identifying and attracting a chipping sparrow.

chipping sparrowCourtesy William Friggle
Male and female chipping sparrows look the same

What Do Male and Female Chipping Sparrows Look Like?

You know you’re looking at a chipping sparrow by its chestnut cap and black eye line, though it does lose the cap and the eye line fades slightly in winter. Male and female chipping sparrows look alike.

Learn how to identify white-throated sparrows, Lincoln’s sparrows and white-crowned sparrows.

chipping sparrowCourtesy Joan Edblom
Chipping sparrows are commonly spotted in backyards during summer

Where to Find Chipping Sparrows

The chipping sparrow is among the most common sparrows in North America. They are summer visitors for most, reaching all the way up to Alaska. They winter or spend the whole year in southern states, from California, east to Florida and north to Maryland.

All about sparrows: what birders should know.

Chipping Sparrow Nest

While the females build the nests, the males stand guard. Like many sparrows, they’re a bit picky about where they build; the female might start several nests before she settles on a single location. The female typically lays two to seven pale blue eggs and will raise one to three broods in a single season.

Learn how to identify a song sparrow.

What Do Chipping Sparrows Eat?

Don’t forget native sparrows at bird feeders. These are some of the most low-maintenance feeder birds, because they graze on whatever they can find on the ground. So keep those feeders full—the sparrows appreciate anything that falls down.

Backyard Tip: Plant grasses if you want to support these sparrows. Native and ornamental grasses offer plenty of seed for this ground feeding bird.

Learn how to attract more juncos to your backyard.

Look-Alike Winter Sparrow

american tree sparrowCourtesy Janet Zimmerman
American tree sparrows look very similar to chipping sparrows

If you think you’ve seen a chipping sparrow in winter, you might want to take a second look. You may be seeing an American tree sparrow—a winter visitor throughout the central and northern U.S. The tree sparrow also has a rufous cap, but it summers in northern Canada and Alaska.

These two sparrow species take turns as popular backyard birds in the northern United States. Chipping sparrows live there in summer, migrating to the southern states in fall. American tree sparrows spend summers in the Arctic, appearing south of Canada only from late fall to early spring. The tree sparrow is slightly larger, with more obvious white wing bars. The stripe behind its eye is reddish brown, not black or dark gray as on the chipping sparrow. Pay attention to the different bill colors as well: They are bicolored black and yellow on tree sparrows, while chipping sparrows’ bills are black in summer and partly dull pink in winter.

Check out the 51 best winter bird photos.

Lori Vanover
Lori has 20 years of experience writing and editing home, garden, birding and lifestyle content for several publishers. As Birds & Blooms senior digital editor, she leads a team of writers and editors sharing birding tips and expert gardening advice. Since joining Trusted Media Brands 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing magazines and books, curating special interest publications, managing social media accounts, creating digital content and newsletters, and working with the Field Editors—Birds & Blooms network of more than 50 backyard birders. Passionate about animals and nature, Lori has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural and Environmental Communications from the University of Illinois. In 2023, she became certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener, and she is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and sits on the organization's Publications Advisory Committee. She frequently checks on her bird feeders while working from home and tests new varieties of perennials, herbs and vegetable plants in her ever-growing backyard gardens.