Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida)

Clay-colored Sparrow

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Emberizidae | [latin] Spizella pallida | [UK] Clay-colored Sparrow | [FR] Pinson des plaines | [DE] Fahlammer | [ES] Gorrion Palido | [NL] Bleke Gors


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

A small pale sparrow of mid-continent; plain-breasted. Like a pale Chipping Sparrow, but buffier, with a sharply outlined ear patch.

wingspan min.: 20 cm wingspan max.: 21 cm
size min.: 14 cm size max.: 15 cm
incubation min.: 10 days incubation max.: 12 days
fledging min.: 9 days fledging max.: 10 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 5  


North America : Central


Scrub, brushy prairies, jack pines.
Breeds in shrubby areas including stands of bushes on open prairies, edges of woodlands, young second growth, understory in jack pine woods. Generally in more open areas than Chipping Sparrow, heavier brush than Brewer’s Sparrow. In migration and winter,
found in brushy fields, thickets, dry scrub, desert grassland.


Males sing in spring to establish and defend nesting territories. During the breeding season, adults often forage away from nesting area, unlike most songbirds, which do their foraging within breeding territory.
Site is on ground or in low shrubs, up to 5′ high. Local populations often specialize in nest sites; in one Manitoba study, almost all nests were built in snowberry bushes; other common sites include rose bushes and clumps of grass. Nest (built by female
) is open cup of grass, weeds, twigs, rootlets, lined with fine grass, rootlets, animal hair.
Eggs: 3-5, usually 4. Pale blue-green, with dark brown spots usually concentrated at larger end. Incubation is mostly by female, about 10-14 days.
Young: Both parents bring food for the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 7-9 days after hatching; unable to fly for about another week. 1 brood per year, sometimes 2.

Feeding habits

Mostly seeds and insects. Diet is not known in detail, but feeds mostly on seeds at most times of year, especially those of weeds and grasses; als
o some leaf buds, catkins, berries. Also eats many insects, especially in summer, including caterpillars, grasshoppers, true bugs, ants, damselflies, and many others, as well as spiders. Young are fed mostly insects.
Behavior: Forages mostly while hopping on the ground, occasionally up in shrubs. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks, sometimes mixed with other sparrows.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Clay-colored Sparrow status Least Concern


Western and central Canada, north-central United States. In winter, southern United States to Mexico. Migration:
Often migrates in flocks. Migration is mostly through Great Plains; in fall, some strays reach both Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Distribution map

Clay-colored Sparrow distribution range map

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