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Clay-colored Sparrow

Named after their modest plumage, these Sparrows are widespread over most of the United States.

The Clay-colored Sparrow breeds in shrub communities of the northern Great Plains and Prairie Provinces of Canada.  Clay-colored Sparrow nests are frequently parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds. Cowbird eggs can either be accepted or rejected, but if they are accepted, only cowbirds are known to be raised.

Clay-colored Sparrow territories are small, and when feeding young, adults will forage outside of their territories. Chipping and Song Sparrows are usually confronted by territorial male Clay-colored Sparrows.


Description of the Clay-colored Sparrow


The Clay-colored Sparrow has streaked, brownish upperparts, a plain gray nape, a bold white supercilium and median crown stripe bordered by dark stripes, plain, buffy-white underparts, and indistinct wing bars.

clay-colored sparrow

Photograph © Glenn Bartley.


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance

Fall and winter birds are slightly buffier below.


Juveniles have streaked underparts.


Clay-colored Sparrows inhabit brushy areas and woodland edges.


Clay-colored Sparrows eat insects and seeds.


Clay-colored Sparrows forage on the ground or low in vegetation.


Clay-colored Sparrows breed across much of central Canada and the north-central U.S. They winter in Mexico. During migration, they can be seen across a large section of the central U.S. The population appears to be stable.

Fun Facts

Clay-colored Sparrows are often seen in flocks during migration, sometimes with other sparrow species.

Adult Clay-colored Sparrows often forage outside of their territories during the nesting season.


The song consists of a short series of buzzes.  A short “wit” call is also given.


Similar Species

The Brewer’s Sparrow has a streaked nape and plainer head pattern.


The Clay-colored Sparrow’s nest is a cup of grasses, weeds, and twigs and is lined with finer materials. It is placed on the ground or in a low shrub.

Number: Usually lay 3-5 eggs.
Color: Pale bluish-green with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 10-14 days, and fledge at about 7-9 days, though remaining dependent on the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Clay-colored Sparrow

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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