Vancouver Avian Research Centre

.....Research - Conservation - Education
 Species: American Tree Sparrow  Spizella arborea


The American Tree Sparrow is a winter resident in a large area of central North America and is seen in winter flocks and at many backyard feeders.  Its rufous cap and gray breast with a central black spot are diagnostic.  Its breeding range is Alaska, northern B.C., northern Yukon, Northwest Territories, northern Saskatchewan, northern Manitoba, northern Ontario, north and central Quebec and Labrador. 


General:  Medium size sparrow.  Length: 13-15cm.  Wing: 60-82mm. Weight: 12.6-27.7 grams. 

Adult male:  Rusty cap, often with a grayish median crown stripe and gray supercilium; eyeline rusty; lores gray; malar stripe thin. The back is rusty brown with dark streaks.  Its rump and wings are brown with rusty brown coverts and two distinct wing-bars.  The chin, throat and upper breast are gray with a distinct black spot in the central breast.  The lower flanks and lower belly fade into warm rusty beige.  The upper mandible is dark while the lower mandible is yellow with a dusky tip.  Its legs are brown. 

Adult female:  Males are slightly larger and sexes are similar in colouration. 

Juvenile:  Similar to adults but with a streaked brown cap, nape and side of neck. Underparts, except for the lower belly are heavily streaked with blackish brown, often with a distinct breast spot. 

Similar Species:  The Chipping Sparrow is slimmer and smaller, with a black beak, white supercilium and no breast spot.  The Rufous-crowned Sparrow is browner, with a black malar stripe.  Field Sparrows have pink bills and no breast spot.  First year White-crowned Sparrows superficially resemble Tree Sparrows but are larger. 

Behaviour:  In summer males sing persistently to proclaim possession of territory. In the winter they are generally found in loose flocks or small groups and seen at feeders.  When flushed from the ground they commonly fly up into a small nearby tree where they can be easily observed.  Taking seeds, berries and insects for food they are usually seen foraging among weeds and grasses and along branches and twigs. 

Habitat:  Breeds usually near treeline in open scrubby areas in willow, birch and alder thickets, stunted spruce, open tundra with scattered shrubs, often near lakes and bogs.  During migration and winter they can be seen in fields, marshes hedgerows, gardens and open forests, residential neighbourhoods and feeders. 


The name American Tree Sparrow is somewhat of a misnomer as most individuals breed in remote northern areas, often north of the treeline. The name was given to this bird by early European settlers for the superficial resemblance it had with the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus).  The nest, built by the female, is a neatly woven cup of dead sedges or grasses, weed stems, rootlets lined with finer grasses, feathers or hairs.  Three to six white to pale greenish eggs heavily spotted with reddish brown are laid. 


Listed as Least Concern.
Capture Rates

American Tree Sparrow breed in the far north and migrate to central North America in the winter, in most cases south of the border throughout the United States. Therefore, American Tree Sparrow is a rare visitor to Colony Farm as is reflected by the capture of only a few individuals in April and zero capture rate for the remainder of the year. Capture rates above are standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours from 2010 - 2012.


Home | About UsEducationResearch| Volunteer | About Birds | Gallery

Copyright © 2008-2017 VARC - Designed by Derek Matthews. Administration by Mark Habdas