Sunday, July 22, 2018

Separating Spizellas: Identification of Clay-coloured vs Chipping Sparrow in Fall Plumage

While the identification of breeding plumaged Sparrows is generally quite straight forward.Note in the photos below there is nothing difficult about separating these species in Spring. However, things tend to get much trickier in fall, when these Sparrows lose their more distinctive features, in favour of a more drab appearance, not to mention the appearance of juveniles.

Clay-coloured Sparrow singing in Newfoundland
Clay-coloured Sparrow, Newfoundland, June
Chipping Sparrow in Newfoundland in June
Chipping Sparrow in Newfoundland, June

For this article I will be focusing on the genus Spizella and more specifically the Clay-coloured and Chipping Sparrow complex. From a Newfoundland perspective this generally isn't a big deal, since both Chipping Sparrow and Clay-coloured are rare in the province, aside from a small breeding population of Chipping Sparrows in SW Newfoundland. However, both Chipping and Clay-coloured Sparrow are see in Newfoundland in fall in small numbers, usually in October. A flock of 4 Clay-coloured Sparrows in Ferryland on the Avalon Peninsula last fall was extraordinary, since these birds are generally seen in singles, since they are a vagrant to the island. Before

So, there is some reason to be familiar with these two species, which seem to cause birders some trouble. However, if you know what to look for I'd argue that most individuals of these two species can be separately fairly easily. If you do not have a working knowledge of the facial features of Sparrows and the terminology, I'd recommend you take a quick look at this article I write earlier this summer, which will give you a nice refresher!

There are a few features we will key in on to separate these two look-alike species, namely, facial pattern,  and rump colour.

Facial Pattern

Both Chipping Sparrow and Clay-coloured Sparrow have complex facial patterns, but there a couple of key features to note when trying to separate them that I will highlight in the photo below. Note especially differences in the shape, extent and darkness of the eye line, and the lores (area between eye and bill) as well as the submoustial stripe. The presence of a darker submoustacial stripe often on Clay-coloured Sparrow tends to more clearly devide the malar from the malar from the throat, meaning that the malar is often more noticeable on a Clay-coloured than a Chipping Sparrow in the field.

As well, the cheek pattern (auriculars) on a Clay-coloured Sparrow tends to less defined. In Chipping Sparrow the dark eye line, being more noticeable provides a clear border for the upper edge of the ear coverts. Chipping Sparrow has a weaker submoustacial line, it's malar  (pale line formed by the bottom edge of the ear coverts and and sub moustachial line) is not as prominent and seems to blend more with the throat. 

There is a lot of technical jargon in these two paragraphs I know.!If you can't follow it, see the link above for a break down of all of the facial feature of Sparrows. Read these paragraphs a few times if you have to and refer to the photo, so you can see the differences.

Note especially the darker more prominent eyeline and lore of Chipping Sparrow. Clay-coloured on average has more noticeable moustache and sub moustachial stripe and always has pale lores

Based on what you learned above, which species is this?

Rump Colour

Fortunately even if you flush one of these species and you see it fly away there is important information to be gleaned! Aside from differences in facial features these species have characteristically different rump colours. This holds true for all individuals, both juveniles and adults. Chipping Sparrow always has a gray rump, while the rump of Clay-coloured Sparrow is always brown. Note the differences in the photo below.
comparison of Clay-coloured and Chipping Sparrows
Note the gray rump of the Chipping Sparrow on the left and the brown rump of the Clay-coloured Sparrow on the right. Also, note how the gray rump of Chipping Sparrow contrasts with the brown back, while the rump and back of Clay-coloured is much more concolourous.
I'll conclude with a couple more, unlabelled photos, see if you can applied what you learned in the article to identify them correctly and confidently!

Clay-coloured Sparrow
Easy right!?
Chipping Sparrow
Which one?

Please check the rest of my blog for 100+ other articles, including many more ID articles, general interest pieces etc. Also, if you would like to know when we post new content, follow Birding Newfoundland on Facebook. To get information on tours and ID workshops please see our website!

You may also be interested in,

An Illustrated account of Dovekie, AKA Bullbird

Northern Goshawk: An Episode of Raptor on Raptor Violence!

Birder's: A Subculture?

Answer to the quiz birds above are, 1) Clay-coloured, 2 Clay-coloured and 3 Chipping

I am thrilled to be able to provide educational and entertaining content. However, these articles are very time consuming to write. If possible please consider subscribing to the blog with a very small monthly fee via the subscribe button. This will help to cover costs of website maintenance and all the other expenses that go into producing the content. Whether you subscribe or not you will still have access to all the content, the small subscription fee is just a means of showing your support. Thank you!

Support Birding Newfoundland- subscription options
Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites


  1. My name is Mrs.Aisha Mohamed, am a Citizen Of Qatar.Have you been looking for a loan?Do you need an urgent personal loan or business loan?contact Dr James Eric Finance Home he help me with a loan of $42,000 some days ago after been scammed of $2,800 from a woman claiming to been a loan lender but i thank God today that i got my loan worth $42,000.Feel free to contact the company for a genuine financial service. Email:( call/whats-App Contact Number +918929509036

  2. Am really grateful and thankful for what Dr Roberto has done for me and my family with is herbal herbs , I have be suffering from HIV for good three years with no solution, the diseases almost took my life and because I was unable to work and I was also loosing lots of money for medication, but one faithful day when I went online, I met lots of testimonies about this great man so I decided to give it a try and to God be the glory he did it. If you need his help or you also want to get cured just the way I got mine, just email him below ( and get your healing. He has cure for other deadly diseases like Herpes, Hiv/Aids, Hepatitis , Cancer , Fix Broken marriage , Looking for a child he can still do that for you .

  3. Selamat siang untuk seluruh WNI dan juga seluruh ASIA, nama saya Bu Nurliana Novi, mohon, saya ingin membagikan testimoni hidup saya di sini pada platform ini untuk semua WNI dan seluruh asia agar berhati-hati dengan pemberi pinjaman di internet, Allah benar-benar telah mendukung saya melalui ibu. Ibu Elina yang baik hati
    Setelah beberapa periode mencoba mendapatkan pinjaman dari lembaga keuangan, dan ditolak terus-menerus, jadi saya memutuskan untuk mendaftar melalui pinjaman online tetapi saya ditipu dan saya kehilangan Rp 15.000.000 dengan pemberi pinjaman yang berbeda.

    Saking nekadnya mendapatkan pinjaman, maka saya berdiskusi dengan teman saya yang kemudian mengenalkan saya kepada Bu Elina yang merupakan pemilik perusahaan pemberi pinjaman global, maka teman saya tersebut meminta saya untuk melamar ke Bu Elina, maka saya pun memberanikan diri. dan menghubungi Nyonya Elina.

    Saya mengajukan pinjaman sejumlah Rp500.000.000 dengan tingkat bunga 2%, sehingga pinjaman disetujui dengan mudah tanpa stres dan semua pengaturan dilakukan pada transfer kredit, karena tidak memerlukan agunan dan jaminan untuk pinjaman transfer Saya hanya diberitahu untuk mendapatkan sertifikat perjanjian lisensi aplikasi Mereka untuk mentransfer kredit saya dan dalam waktu kurang dari dua jam uang pinjaman telah disimpan ke rekening bank saya.

    Saya pikir itu lelucon sampai saya menerima telepon dari bank saya bahwa rekening saya dikreditkan dengan jumlah Rp500.000.000. Saya sangat senang bahwa ALLAH akhirnya menjawab doa saya dengan memesan pinjaman saya dengan pinjaman asli saya, yang telah memberikan saya keinginan hati saya.

    Mereka juga memiliki tim ahli yang akan memberi tahu Anda tentang jenis bisnis yang ingin Anda investasikan dan bagaimana menginvestasikan uang Anda, sehingga Anda tidak akan pernah bangkrut lagi dalam hidup Anda.

    Semoga ALLAH memberkati Bunda Elina yang telah membuat hidup saya mudah, jadi saya menyarankan siapapun yang berminat untuk mendapatkan pinjaman agar dapat menghubungi Ibu Elina melalui email: untuk pinjaman anda
    Ada perusahaan palsu online lainnya yang menggunakan kesaksian saya untuk mencapai keinginan egois mereka, saya satu-satunya dengan kesaksian yang benar ini, ketika Anda menghubungi kemudian meminta mereka untuk bukti pembayaran ke ibu`` tolong hati-hati orang-orang ini oke

    Akhir kata saya ucapkan terima kasih kepada kalian semua yang telah meluangkan waktu untuk membaca kesaksian hidup saya yang sebenarnya tentang kesuksesan saya dan saya berdoa semoga Tuhan melakukan kehendak-Nya dalam hidup kalian. Satu lagi nama saya mrs nurliana novi, kalian dapat menghubungi saya untuk informasi lebih lanjut. melalui email saya:


Popular Posts