Five-striped Sparrow, Amphispiza quinquestriata

Original description: Zonotrichia quinquestriata Sclater and Salvin 1868

eBird range map

Taxonomic history at Avibase

Taxonomic history in AOU/AOS Check-list

AOU 6 (1983): Five-striped Sparrow, Amphispiza quinquestriata

AOU 7 (1998): Five-striped Sparrow, Aimophila quinquestriata

IUCN Conservation StatusOf least concern

Behavior: Five-striped Sparrows are shy, even reclusive, and are only infrequently seen except when the males take exposed perches to sing. Both sexes feed on leaf-covered ground or in the lowest foliage of shrubs and trees; rather than scratching and kicking, Five-stripeds tend to glean insects and seeds from beneath leaves or along low branches, using their long, slender bills to turn aside obstacles. They have also been observed taking insects in flight.

Sustained flight in this species is usually low and brief, often bringing the bird downslope and into dark cover. 

Like many other species of the arid southwest, Five-striped Sparrows align their breeding efforts with the seasonal rains, such that singing is most frequent in Arizona and Sonora in July and August. Males may sing from the ground, but most songs are delivered from perches on ocotillo stalks or atop mesquites and other shrubs and low trees. 

Voice: The song of the Five-striped Sparrow is structurally simple, “an introductory note followed by one to six, usually two” sequence of grouped notes. The introductory tuck or tzip appears to be quite stereotypical, but each male has at his command a startling large variety of note groups to follow it; one study identified 99 different such phrases, of which the most versatile male sang no fewer than 55 in his various songs. This wide range of available phrases and the birds’ ability to combine and recombine them within the simple standard framework mean that any given male may sing more than 200 identifiably different songs.  

Fortunately for the human observer, that daunting variety of vocalizations is noticeably consistent not only in its simple structure but in the general tone of the notes and note groups. Both the introductory note and those in the groups that follow usually have a distinctive loose, sloppy, lisped quality, with a lazy attack and trailing decay; the note groups can be separated by pauses of up to a full second: tzip, slip-slip; slurp-slurp; tslit-tslit-tslit. Birders from eastern North America may be distantly reminded of a Henslow Sparrow.

A note very similar to the song’s introductory tuck or tzip is also used as a call by feeding or perched birds; the usual contact call is a single high-pitched seet. A “slurred chatter” may be given in disputes, and there is also a complex series of rushed notes at different pitches used in territorial confrontations and when the members of a pair are reunited 

Detailed description and measurements drawn from standard reference works

Adult Amphispiza quinquestriata septentrionalis: Tail feathers dark brownish black, with paler brown edges and variable small pale tips on outermost rectrices. Upper tail coverts and rump gray with brown tinge. Back and scapulars unstreaked chocolate-brown. Primaries and secondaries dark brown, brighter brown on outer webs. Tertials dark gray-brown with broad chocolate edges on outer webs. Greater and median coverts dark brown, paler brown on outer webs; no wing bars. Marginal coverts of under wing white. Nape unstreaked gray with strong brownish tinge. 

Under tail coverts and vent gray, the feathers with broad whitish scaling.   Center of belly and lower breast whitish. Flanks and upper breast dull slate-gray; large black splotch at center of breast. Throat white at center, with very broad black lateral throat stripes bordered above by narrow white jaw stripes. 

Crown unstreaked gray with strong brownish tinge, most prominent behind forehead. Ear coverts dark gray. Narrow white supercilium extends just behind eye. Shallow white crescent beneath eye. Lore blackish gray.

Tarsus and toes dull pinkish yellow. Long, rather slender bill slaty blue above, paler gray blue below.  

Juvenile Amphispiza quinquestriata septentrionalis: Tail feathers dark brownish black, with small white tips on outermost rectrices. Upper tail coverts and rump unstreaked brown. Back and scapulars brown with darker brown spotting. Primaries dusky brown, the outer primaries with whitish edges and the inner primaries with dusky edges. Secondaries dusky with rusty edges on outer webs. Tertials dark gray-brown with broad rusty edges on outer webs. Greater and median coverts dusky with buffy edges on outer webs. Alula with whitish edges. Marginal coverts of under wing white. Nape brownish gray.

Under tail coverts and vent brownish, the feathers with broad yellowish tips and scaling. Center of belly, breast, and throat yellowish. Flanks and sides of breast dull brownish. Lower breast crossed by brownish band with faint brown streaking. Throat with faint blackish lateral stripe, obscure or even absent. 

Crown gray with faint brown streaking. Ear coverts brownish gray. Hint of whitish line above grayish lore.

Tarsus and toes pinkish. Long, rather slender bill brownish above, yellow below.  

Length 133-141 (5.2-5.6 inches)

 Wing 60-70 mm (2.4-2.8 inches)

Tail 61-71 mm (2.4-2.8 inches)

W:T 0.99

Mass 18-22 g