Clay-colored Sparrow – Accepted

1. 26 Sep 1970


San Pedro LA



2. 18 Nov 1971


San Pedro LA



3. 17 Sep 1972


Pt. Pinos MTY



4. 24 Sep 1972


Pt. Pinos MTY



5. 21 Oct 1972


Tijuana R. valley SD



6. 19 Oct 1973


Southeast Farallon I. SF










Figure 297. This bird’s buff flanks, whitish central crown-stripe, thick gray collar, pale lores, distinct whitish moustachial stripe, and brown auriculars edged darker identify it as a first-fall Clay-colored Sparrow. The species occurs regularly in California, primarily as a fall migrant, and the Committee reviewed its records for only a short time. This one was photographed in October 1994 at Galileo Hill, Kern County (Herbert Clarke).







Clay-colored Sparrow

CLAY-COLORED SPARROW Spizella pallida (Swainson, 1832)

Accepted: 6 (100%)

Treated in Appendix H: no

Not accepted: 0

CBRC review: records from 1970 through 19731

Not submitted/reviewed: NA

Large color image: see Figure

This small sparrow’s northern breeding limit extends from the west-central Northwest Territories and central British Columbia east to southwestern Quebec. The southern limit reaches from northeastern Washington to western Pennsylvania, with sporadic breeding farther east. The species winters in Baja California Sur and from southern Texas south through mainland Mexico to Oaxaca, casually to Chiapas, western Guatemala, Belize (Jones 2003), and the Bahamas (NAB 59:169, 192). Most migration takes place through the Great Plains and eastward to the Mississippi Valley; transients are generally rare but regular farther east, mostly in fall, including records from Bermuda and the Caribbean. In the West, outside of breeding areas, the species is a casual to rare migrant north to southern Yukon and southeastern Alaska, with single records for northern and western Alaska (NAB 58:128). Small numbers typically winter along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

California’s first Clay-colored Sparrow, a first-fall female present 24–25 September 1963 in the Tijuana River valley, San Diego County, was collected on the second day (McCaskie et al. 1967b, SDNHM 30790). This species’ relatively recent recognition as a regular component of California’s avifauna reflects earlier identification difficulties, at least in part (Roberson 1980, see Pyle and Howell 1996). Once the true status was elucidated, this species was quickly removed from the CBRC’s review list. The species occurs as a rare, regular fall transient (15 August–8 December, peaking mid September to early November) and very rare spring vagrant (29 April–22 June, peaking in May) and winter visitor (remaining as late as 30 April). Most records come from the coast and the northern desert oases. Southeast Farallon Island claims the lion’s share, with 504 fall and 43 spring records between 1968 and 1999 (Richardson et al. 2003). In eastern Kern County, records average about two per fall, and spring records are much rarer (M.T. Heindel unpubl. data, May 2000). Farther south, in the Salton Sink, Patten et al. (2003) reported only single fall and winter records, plus two in spring.

Apparent or possible Chipping Sparrow × Clay-colored Sparrow hybrids were reported on 13 September 1991 at Southeast Farallon Island (Richardson et al. 2003, but see Pyle and Howell 1996) and 29 September–1 October 2004 on San Clemente Island, Los Angeles County (Sullivan and Kershner 2005). See also Storer (1954), Fix (1988), and Parkes (1990).

1On the review list 1972–19 73