• Welcome to BirdForum, the internet's largest birding community with thousands of members from all over the world. The forums are dedicated to wild birds, birding, binoculars and equipment and all that goes with it.

    Please register for an account to take part in the discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.
ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

Clay-colored Sparrow - BirdForum Opus

Photo by digitalbirder
South Okanagan, British Columbia, June 2004
Spizella pallida


Adults have light brown upperparts and pale underparts, with darker streaks on the back. They have a pale crown stripe on a dark brown crown, a white line over the eyes, a dark line through the eyes, a light brown cheek patch and brown wings with wing bars. The short bill is pale with a dark tip and the back of the neck is grey; they have a long tail.

Photo © by Kadawe
Non-breeding plumage
West Newbury, Massachusetts, Oct 2016

Similar species

Non-breeding adults and immatures resemble Chipping Sparrows and Brewer's Sparrows; they often form flocks with these birds outside of the nesting season. Compared with Chipping Sparrow, Clay-colored have pale lores (black line in Chipping) and a winter Clay-colored has rather buffy undersides vs grey in Chipping. Brewer's in winter is a weakly patterned bird, but there is a little overlap with Clay-colored meaning that a few birds may be impossible to id.


Clay-colored Sparrows breed in northern US and southern Canada from just east of the Rockies almost to the east coast. They reach further north in the west part of the range than in the east. They are complete migrants, meaning there is no overlap between summer and winter ranges. They typically migrate in flocks through the Great Plains to southern Texas and Mexico.

Wanderers are found in the fall from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coasts. In these cases, the wandering Clay-colored Sparrows are usually found with Chipping or Brewer's Sparrows.


This is a monotypic species[1].


Their breeding habitat is shrubby open areas and Jack Pine woods across central Canada and central northern United States east to the Great Lakes.



They forage on the ground, mainly eating seeds and insects. Outside of the nesting season, they often feed in small flocks.


The nest is an open cup on the ground or low in a shrub. While nesting, these birds may feed far from the nest; feeding areas are not defended.


The song is two to four insect-like buzzes on a single pitch. The call is a high tsip.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

Recommended Citation

External Links

GSearch checked for 2020 platform.1