- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant; occasionally a few birds overwinter. The Chipping Sparrow was a very abundant species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Broadly distributed across North America, from eastern Alaska south through California and east to the Atlantic Coast. It is a year-round resident throughout much of the southeastern United States and in scattered areas of Central America. In the western United States, it is rare to absent from portions of the central Great Plains, California’s Central Valley, and portions of Washington and Oregon. The Chipping Sparrow reaches some of its highest breeding densities in British Columbia and in the eastern United States, from the Great Lakes states south through the Appalachian region (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 8/20 by Partners in Flight.
A short-distance migrant that winters in the southern United States and northern Mexico.
An omnivorous ground forager that feeds primarily on seeds supplemented with insects during the breeding season.
An open-cup nest often placed at variable heights within a coniferous tree or shrub.
In the early 1900s, Roberts (1932) considered the Chipping Sparrow a common breeding species throughout the state with the exception of the northern Red River valley. Confirmed nesting reports (nests with eggs) were available from Crow Wing, Hennepin, Isanti, Polk, Sherburne, and St. Louis Counties and from Itasca State Park. Inferred nesting reports (e.g., feeding young and nest building) were documented from Goodhue, Houston, Lake of the Woods, and Stearns Counties and from Cass Lake. Roberts wrote a charming account of the species’ different habitations:
It dwells familiarly about our homes and builds its nest in the ornamental shrubbery, even in the vines and shrubs about our doorsteps. It is equally at home in wilder places and is an abundant bird in the spruce groves and open glades of the northern forests, where, like the Robin, it seems somewhat out of place to those who are wont to associate it with civilized surroundings. Here, the nest may be found at some distance from the ground in a tamarack or spruce tree in the midst of wild, densely wooded bogs, where a second look is required to satisfy one that the owner is really the sociable little Chippy of the garden shrubbery at home.
So common was this species in urban settings that Roberts (1932) described it as the “most thoroughly domesticated of all our sparrows.”
Little has changed since the days of Roberts. Green and Janssen (1975) and Janssen (1987) each described the species as a common summer resident throughout the state. Green and Janssen cited its abundance in the eastern and central regions of the state, while Janssen claimed it was most abundant in the eastern and northern regions. Janssen also included a map identifying 45 counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) later added another 11 counties to the list. The Minnesota Biological Survey reported a total of 973 breeding season locations. Reports were common from all but the most intensively cultivated regions of the Red River valley (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
MNBBA participants reported a total of 6,349 Chipping Sparrow records in 65.4% (3,135/4,792) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 83.8% (1,959/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was documented in 13.7% (657) of the surveyed blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). Chipping Sparrows were the seventh most commonly detected species during the entire atlas and were reported from each of Minnesota’s 87 counties. They were confirmed breeding in all but 1 county, Faribault.
The Chipping Sparrow’s predicted distribution map, which integrates MNBBA data with habitat, landscape context and climate data, predicts the species’ highest breeding densities are attained in the Twin Cities metropolitan region as well as in other communities throughout the Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province (Figure 4). Although it is present statewide, the lowest breeding densities are predicted to occur along the North Shore of Lake Superior in eastern Lake and Cook Counties and in the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Province in northwest Minnesota.
Atlas data confirm that the Chipping Sparrow remains as widespread today as it was in Roberts’s day, more than one hundred years ago. Although its breeding density may be lower in some regions of the state than in others, it remains a common and even abundant species throughout most of Minnesota. An inhabitant of open woodlands, the species benefitted from the clearing of North America’s eastern deciduous forest in the 1800s. Several accounts mention its subsequent decline following the introduction of the House Sparrow (Bent 1968; Cutright et al. 2006; Middleton 1998). In the Twin Cities the House Sparrow was well established by 1877, but Roberts (1932) makes no mention of any impact the exotic invasive had on the native Chipping Sparrow in Minnesota. Overall, the species is considered more abundant and widely distributed today than it was prior to European settlement (Middleton 1998).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.