Wild Profile: Meet the chipping sparrow

An adult chipping sparrow perched on a branch By Glenn Price/Shutterstock

The chipping sparrow is known for two things: one, being brash, and two, stealing hair. No, really. Chipping sparrows collect so much of the stuff that they’re actually nicknamed the “hair bird.” But it’s not for creepy reasons; chipping sparrows use animal fur and hair to line their nests, which they build not long after returning north to cottage country in late April and early May.

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Other birds use fur in their nest-building too, it’s just that chipping sparrows are particularly bold about it. Not only will they collect shed moose or deer fur, they’re actually known for yanking tufts from sleeping dogs, or ripping long hairs from a horse’s mane or tail. Youch!

In spring—breeding time, of course—cottagers can hear the sparrow’s staccato, cricket-like song, or its repeated “chip” call. Once a coupled pair’s mating frenzy is over—it’s noisy, and a little frantic—Mom chipping sparrow lays (and then hatches) her babies in about a month. The eggs are recognizable: pumpkin-seed sized and pale turquoise, specked with brown, black, and purple.

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Chipping sparrows themselves can be harder to ID, especially juvenile birds. (Sparrows, as a group, are no Baltimore orioles or indigo buntings: think brown on brown on brown.) In summer, look for a breeding adult’s rusty-red crown—it tends to be brighter and more distinct than in winter. You can also watch their behaviour for clues. They tend to sing from high branches or prominent perches. And like robins, they like to scamper along the ground looking for food during or after a rainfall.

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