Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
American Tree Sparrow - Spizelloides arborea
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General Comments Of the several dozen species of sparrows in North America, the American Tree Sparrow is the hardiest, breeding far into the tundra region of northern Canada and northern Alaska, south only to central Canada. Not surprisingly, it winters essentially to the north of North Carolina, being found mainly in the northern half of the country. It winters regularly only to the northern parts of Virginia; a few birds probably occurred each winter in North Carolina through the end of the 20th Century, for brief periods. However, it takes a diligent birder to uncover one in the state, unless it shows up at a feeder. Most state records, as expected, occur in the northern half of the state, from the mountains to the coast; they are mainly found with Field Sparrows, less so with other species, in weedy fields and shrubby thickets, in open country. The species can be easily misidentified as a Swamp Sparrow or a Chipping Sparrow; photos are desirable for confirmation. Probably because of global warming, the southern edge of the winter range is retreating northward; and records in the state are dwindling with each passing decade, barely just one or two a decade now.

In summer 2015, the AOU moved the species out of the genus Spizella and into its own genus -- Spizelloides, as it has some affinities toward the Fox Sparrow (in the genus Passerella).

Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter visitor to the northeastern corner of the province. Scarce and declining, with few recent records. Very rare winter visitor along the northern coast, south to Pea Island NWR; casual in the northern part of the Tidewater region -- three records. The only other regional record is from Rich Square (Halifax). Mainly early Nov to Feb, with a surprising number for Nov, when southward migrating birds probably overshoot their regular wintering grounds. Peak counts: 5, Kitty Hawk, 20 Dec 2003; 5, Corapeake (Gates), between 21 Dec 1978 and 21 Mar 1979.
Piedmont Winter visitor, declining. Very rare along the northern two tiers of counties, and casual farther southward. Mainly early Jan to mid-Feb, but with scattered records in Nov, Dec, and Mar; one on 27 Oct and two in Apr are hopefully correct, but are still open to question. One reported in Pearson et al. (1959) at Lenoir on 9 May (no year given) seems highly unlikely. The first state report since 2014 was one photographed in southwestern Rockingham on 13 Jan 2023. Peak counts: highest daily count probably only 3; 7 from 17-31 Jan 1968 at Mason Farm in Chapel Hill, of which 4 were banded.
Mountains Winter visitor, declining. Very rare in the northern counties, casual to very rare in the central counties, and casual in the southern counties. Mainly early Nov to late Dec; surprisingly few records for Jan and Feb. Latest date is 11 Mar. Peak counts: 4, Arden, 26 Dec 1938.
Finding Tips To look for this species, work weedy fields in the coldest part of the winter, and pour over flocks of Field Sparrows. Of course, this practically never is successful, but that is the strategy.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-05-19], LeGrand[2023-03-31], LeGrand[2018-02-01]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.