Return to Main Page   Dakota Birder Blog    

Clay-colored Sparrow

Spizella pallida

Length: 5.5 inches Wingspan: 8 inches Seasonality: Migrant / Summer
ID Keys: Brown ear patches with dark outline, white central crown stripe, dark eyeline behind eye (not in front)

Clay-colored Sparrow - Spizella pallidaClay-colored sparrows can be a fairly common sight during the summer in the northern tier of U.S. states.  Males are easily observed as they sing their buzzy song from a high perch in their territory.  They can sometimes be found in mixed flocks with Chipping Sparrows or Brewer's Sparrows (western South Dakota only for the latter), two species that share a general overall appearance and may be confused with Clay-colored Sparrows, particularly during fall migration when birds are in non-breeding plumage.


Prefers shrubby grasslands for breeding.  This can also include woodland edges, fence lines, and the shrubby understory of forest areas.  They also prefer brushy areas during migration and in winter.


The major diet item is seeds, which it consumes in quantity at all seasons.  Other vegetative matter includes berries, fruits, leaf-buds, and new shoots.  They also feed heavily on insects during the summer.


Does most of its foraging on the ground or low in shrubbery and other vegetation.


June and July in South Dakota. The nest of a Clay-colored sparrow is a relatively large cup (compared to the bird's size), placed close to the ground (usually <4 feet) in a dense bush or clump of weeds. The cup is primarily constructed of grasses, weed stems, and small twigs, lined with finer grasses and very often, animal hair. The female lays between 3 and 6 eggs, with both parents sharing incubation duties. The young hatch from the nest after about 12 days, and fledge from the nest 9 or 10 days after hatching. Parents will continue to protect and feed the young for several days after the young fledge.


Series of three to five identical raspy buzzes, relatively unique compared to most other sparrow species that migrate through the state, or stay for the summer breeding season. The call of a Clay-colored Sparrow is a simple, sharp chip note.


Summers in the northern tier of U.S. states, and southern Canada.  Winters in the southern tip of Texas and points south.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click for access to an interactive eBird map of Clay-colored Sparrow sightings

Similar Species:

Potentially confused with multiple other sparrow species that can be found in South Dakota.

Brewer's Sparrow 2 - Spizella breweri Chipping Sparrow 9 -  Spizella passerina Chipping Sparrow 14 -  Spizella passerina Field Sparrow 3 - Spizella pusilla
Brewer's Sparrow Chipping Sparrow Chipping Sparrow Field Sparrow

Bird Feeders:

Will attend feeders for grains, seeds, and breadcrumbs.

Conservation Status:

Surveys hint at a slight decline in recent decades.  Reasons are unknown, but they are a fairly common victim of Brown-headed Cowbird parasitism. However, they are still found across a very broad geographic area and are common in parts of their range. The IUCN considers the Clay-colored Sparrow to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 30th, 2015 - Kingsbury County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Clay-colored Sparrow photos.

Audio File Credits:


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Clay-colored Sparrow - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant across the sate.  Uncommon summer breeding resident in the northeast and north-central.

Additional Clay-colored Sparrow Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Clay-colored Sparrow 1 - Spizella pallidaClay-colored Sparrow 2 - Spizella pallidaClay-colored Sparrow 3 - Spizella pallidaClay-colored Sparrow 4 - Spizella pallidaClay-colored Sparrow 5 - Spizella pallidaClay-colored Sparrow 6 - Spizella pallidaClay-colored Sparrow 7 - Spizella pallidaClay-colored Sparrow 8 - Spizella pallidaClay-colored Sparrow 9 - Spizella pallidaClay-colored Sparrow 10 - Spizella pallidaClay-colored Sparrow 11 - Spizella pallidaClay-colored Sparrow 12 - Spizella pallidaClay-colored Sparrow 13 - Spizella pallida