Chipping Sparrow, Lost Lake, Linn Co., Oregon on 23 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.
The Chipping Sparrow breeds throughout the Pacific NW, but requires drier, open, park-like woodlands. Thus, it is usually rare along the wet coast and Coast Range forests, and on the more humid west slope of the Cascades.
It has the odd distinction of being found in the lower western valleys of Oregon and Washington, but not in the mid-elevation Douglas-fir and hemlock forests of the west slope of the Cascades, but then again very common high in the Cascades in the open lodgepole pine forests (as in the photo above). [See the species account in the Washington Breeding Bird Atlas.]
Most Chipping Sparrows winter south of the Pacific NW, though rarely some are found in winter in filbert (hazelnut) groves in the Willamette Valley. In spring, some may arrive in western Oregon as early as March, but the peak of migration is mid to late April through much of the Pacific NW.
In autumn, many birds form large flocks in open grassy clearings in the mountains. Few birds remain beyond early October.
In winter plumage they lose the chestnut crown and can appear similar to the rare winter vagrant Clay-colored Sparrow.
The song is a long (4-6 seconds), dry trill on one pitch. Dark-eyed Juncos can sometimes give a similar trill, but usually the junco is more musical and of shorter duration.
This species has declined in numbers over the past century, especially in towns. Loss of small farms and orchards, closing canopies in oak woodlands due to fire suppression, and increase of Brown-headed Cowbird nest parasitism are all likely causes.
In the past they lined their nests extensively with horse hair, and were even called "horse-hair birds." Having trouble locating Chipping Sparrows in your local area? Try finding a horse stable or one of the "gentleman ranchettes" that are popular today.