Identify North American Sparrows With This Photo Gallery (2022)

There are dozens of species of sparrows in North America alone, and for many birders, they can be challenging to identify. All sparrows are small birds with active personalities, and their elusive behavior can make it difficult to watch them long enough for a positive identification. Each sparrow does, however, have distinctive field marks that can make it easier to tell them apart.

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    Song Sparrow

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    The song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) is a widespread, relatively common sparrow. Initially difficult to identify because of its relatively bland, streaked plumage, birders can quickly learn to look for its long, rounded tail and the central splotch or spot of color on the bird’s chest, though some birds do not have it as clearly defined as others. The bird’s warbling song is also a greatclue to its identity, and it will often sing profusely from perches.

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    Chipping Sparrow

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    The chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina) is a common summer bird throughout much of the United States and Canada, with winter populations extending into the southern states and Mexico. Easily recognized by its bold rufous crown, black eye stripe, white or gray eyebrow, and clear gray breast and abdomen, this bird is an easy one to spot when it visits yards and gardens. Although there are no noticeable differences between males and females, females can appear larger in size and duller in coloration.

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    White-Crowned Sparrow

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    The white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) is easy to distinguish with its bold “bandit” head pattern of thick black and white stripes. The pale bill and grayish body are other good field marksfor this species, as is its ground foraging behavior and double-footed scratching hop. This is a familiar bird in the western United States and throughout Canada, but it is less common in the east.

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  • 04 of 16

    Lark Sparrow

    Identify North American Sparrows With This Photo Gallery (4)

    The boldly marked lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) is instantly recognizable by its strong facial pattern in rufous, white, and black, paired with a relatively plain body. The bird’s white outer tail feathers are another good field mark but those can be more difficult to see. These birds are commonly found in the central and western United States during the summer.

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  • 05 of 16

    Golden-Crowned Sparrow

    Identify North American Sparrows With This Photo Gallery (5)

    The golden-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia atricopilla) is aptly named for its bold, bright yellow crown that contrasts starkly with a darker head and gray cheek. The rest of the bird’s plumage is fairly plain, but noting the pale lower mandible of the bill can help with proper identification if the crown cannot be clearly seen. These are common winter birds along the Pacific coast and are summer residents along the Pacific coast of Canada and throughout Alaska. In winter, the range may extend much further east in mountainous regions.

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    White-Throated Sparrow

    Identify North American Sparrows With This Photo Gallery (6)

    The white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) is common in the eastern United States during the winter and throughout Canada during the summer, with small areas of year-round populations where the ranges overlap. The bold white throat contrasts with the bird’s gray breast, but the stripes on the head can be either white or buff. Both color morphs, however, share the distinctive yellow patch in front of the eye.

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  • 07 of 16

    Savannah Sparrow

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    The Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) is a streaked bird that prefers open areas and often gathers in large flocks for migration. Patterning is heavier on the face, and a yellow splotch above and in front of the eye is a key field mark. The strength of the streaking on the rest of the body can vary regionally in color, thickness, and spread, but will retain the same general pattern.

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  • 08 of 16

    Eurasian Tree Sparrow

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    An introduced, non-native species, the Eurasian tree sparrow (Passer montanus) looks strikingly similar to the male house sparrow but has a brown cap instead of a gray one, and the black on its chin and chest is much less extensive. Another key marking is the black patch on the cheek. This bird is most easily identified by range, as it is only found in small populations in the Midwest mainly in Iowa and Illinois.

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  • 09 of 16

    Fox Sparrow

    Identify North American Sparrows With This Photo Gallery (9)

    The fox sparrow (Passerella iliaca) has both a red (pictured) and gray plumage morph. The markings are similar, with thick triangular or arrowhead-shaped spotting and streaking on the breast and flanks, a thin eye ring, and a smudge on the cheek. The two-toned bill with a darker upper mandible is common to bothplumage variations. The red form is most common in eastern populations, while the gray form is a western variety.

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    Clay-Colored Sparrow

    Identify North American Sparrows With This Photo Gallery (10)

    The clay-colored sparrow (Spizella pallida) is common in southern Canada and the northern plains states during the summer, and in winter it migrates to southern Texas and Mexico. Because its markings are not as bold as other species it can be challenging to identify, but the head stripes are the clearest features, including the white eyebrow and pale mustache. The gray neck can also contrast with the buff-colored chest and back.

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    American Tree Sparrow

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    The American tree sparrow (Spizelloides arborea) prefers colder climates and spends summers in northern Canada and Alaska, while it winters in the northern parts of the United States. It prefers brushy habitats and often mingles in mixed flocks with other sparrows or juncos. The rusty cap, which the bird can raise or lower as a small crest, is a good field mark, as is the dark blurry spot in the center of a clear grayish-white breast. The rusty eye line, two-toned bill, and white wing bars are other good markings to look for when identifying this sparrow.

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    Le Conte's Sparrow

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    The Le Conte’s Sparrow (Ammospiza leconteii) is a shy sparrow typically found in central Canada in the summer and along the central Gulf Coast of the United States in the winter after following a narrow migration path through the Great Plains. The clearest field marks for this marsh-loving sparrow are its broad head streaks washed with rich gold or orange-buff hues and the somewhat wide central white head stripe. The gray cheek and gray neck with fine stripes are other good field marks but are not always as visible.

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  • Slate Dark-Eyed Junco

    Identify North American Sparrows With This Photo Gallery (13)

    The dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) is a common winter bird throughout the United States, and it spends summers in the boreal regions of Canada and Alaska. Commonly called “snowbirds” because these gray sparrows prefer colder climates and only appear in the winter, dark-eyed juncoshave many plumage morphs. The slate-colored junco is the most common in the east, with its rich gray coloration and contrasting white abdomen. The pink bill is another key field mark.

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    Oregon Dark-Eyed Junco

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    Another variation of the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), the Oregon junco is distinctive with its prominent dark hood, brown back, and rufous wash on the flanks. Like most other junco variations, Oregon juncos have pink bills. This is the most common junco in the west, with populations migrating as far south as northern Mexico and the Baja peninsula.

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    Male House Sparrow

    Identify North American Sparrows With This Photo Gallery (15)

    The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) is the most widespread and familiar of any North American sparrow species, and it is widely found through Europe, South America, and Asia. Originally a European bird, house sparrows were introduced in Brooklyn, New York, in 1851 and have rapidly adapted and spread through many different types of habitats. The male birds have a distinct brown plumage, gray cap, black bill, and black bib on a gray chest, all clear field markings for easy identification. Today, these birds are considered invasive.

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    Female House Sparrow

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    The female house sparrow (Passer domesticus) is less distinctly marked than the male. These girls are more easily confused with other bird species, or more apt to be labeled as “little brown jobs” instead of properly identified. The buff, black, and brown markings are a striking plumage, and the buff eyebrow is very clear. Because they are invasive in North America, many birders take steps to discourage house sparrows.

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(Video) Identify birds of North America (East)


How many types of sparrows are there in North America? ›

There are at least 35 types of sparrow species in North America. These birds can generally be located in five areas of North America. There are 15 species of sparrows that can be found in most areas of North America, some more abundant and widespread than others.

What Finch looks like a sparrow? ›

Old World sparrows

Sparrows are finch-like birds. They have stout bodies, rounded wings and broad heads, with deep, conical bills adapted for seed-eating.

What is the largest North American sparrow? ›

The Harris's Sparrow is the largest sparrow in North America. In breeding plumage, it has a black crown, chin, and upper breast, with gray cheeks and a clear white belly. Its back and wings are heavily streaked, and its bill is pink.

What is the most common type of sparrow? ›

1. Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) Song sparrows are gray and brown with bold warm brown streaks. They are very common across the United States and Canada.

How do I identify a sparrow? ›

Male House Sparrows are brightly colored birds with gray heads, white cheeks, a black bib, and rufous neck – although in cities you may see some that are dull and grubby. Females are a plain buffy-brown overall with dingy gray-brown underparts.

Are any sparrows native to North America? ›

House Sparrows are now common across all of North America except Alaska and far northern Canada.

What bird looks like a small sparrow? ›

Some brown birds commonly confused with male or female House Sparrows include: American Tree Sparrow, Carolina Wren, Cassin's Finch, Chipping Sparrow, Cowbird, House Wren, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Harris's Sparrow, House Finch, Purple Finch, Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female), Junco, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, ...

What bird looks like a sparrow but is bigger? ›

Grosbeaks: These birds look similar to sparrows but are usually much larger, with very heavy, thick bills with wide bases for cracking the largest seeds.

What are the different types of sparrows? ›

Old World sparrows

What is the smallest sparrow in North America? ›

LeConte's sparrow (Ammospiza leconteii) is one of the smallest New World sparrow species in North America.
LeConte's sparrow
Species:A. leconteii
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What does a Lincoln sparrow look like? ›

The Lincoln's Sparrow is streaky brown, buffy, and gray overall with rusty edges to its wings and tail. Its chest and sides are rich buff with fine black streaking that fades into a white belly. Its face is marked by a buffy mustache stripe that is bordered by thin brown lines.

What does a Harris sparrow look like? ›

Harris's Sparrows are streaky brown and black overall with a black bib, face, and crown. As they get older, the black areas around the face change from patchy black in juveniles to fully black in adults. Breeding adults have a gray cheek and nape while these areas are brown in nonbreeding birds.

What do brown sparrows look like? ›

Measurements. Song Sparrows are streaky and brown with thick streaks on a white chest and flanks. On a closer look, the head is an attractive mix of warm red-brown and slaty gray, though these shades, as well as the amount of streaking, vary extensively across North America.

How do I know if my house sparrow is a tree sparrow? ›

How to tell the difference between a house sparrow and a tree sparrow. The simplest way to tell the difference between house sparrows and tree sparrows is to look at their crown! Tree sparrows have a solid chestnut-brown head and nape, whilst house sparrows (males at least) have a light grey crown.

Is it a sparrow or a finch? ›

* Finches have shorter legs than sparrows, and their legs are often dark gray; sparrows have longer legs, which are often pale pinkish. * Finches are plainer, less patterned; sparrows have more varied and intricate patterns.

Is there an app to identify birds? ›

Best Apps for Birding with Kids
  1. eBird Mobile App. If you are looking for a convenient and paperless way to log your bird sightings, consider the eBird mobile app. ...
  2. Merlin. ...
  3. Audubon Bird Guide. ...
  4. BirdsEye Bird Finding Guide. ...
  5. EyeLoveBirds. ...
  6. iBird Pro. ...
  7. Sibley Birds (Version 2)

What is the difference between a sparrow and a house sparrow? ›

How to distinguish a house sparrow from a tree sparrow ... - YouTube

How do you tell a sparrow from a warbler? ›

Sparrows are roughly the same size as warblers but tend to look plumper, and their bills are much shorter, thicker, and more powerful.

What bird looks like a sparrow but has a black head? ›

Black-headed Grosbeak

Its breast is dark to tawny orange in color. Its belly is yellow. The female has a brown head, neck and back with sparrow-like black streaks. She also has white streaks down the middle of her head, over her eyes and on her cheeks.

Are house sparrows invasive in North America? ›

Yes, house sparrows are an invasive bird species. A nonnative to North America, they were introduced from Europe to New York in 1852. Birders tend to dislike them because they often kill native birds in order to take over their nesting sites (i.e. bluebird boxes or purple martin houses).

What does it mean when a sparrow visits you? ›

The sparrow represents courage and caution that you should express in your life. With the sparrow spirit guide in your life, you get the ability to express talent, intelligence, and creativity. This bird comes in your life to remind you of the importance of happiness.

What bird looks similar to a house sparrow? ›

Prunella modularis. The Dunnock is similar in size to the House Sparrow, though it is a sleeker bird with a fine bill. The plumage is rather drab, being a mixture of grey on the head and chest and brown elsewhere. The upperparts and flank are streaked with warm-brown tones.

What kind of bird looks like a sparrow but has a red head? ›

The House Finch, the most common and widespread of the three, typically has a red head, breast, and rump, but does not have red coloring on its brown back or wings.

What bird looks like a sparrow but has a long beak? ›

House Wren

House Wrens are small, chunky birds native to North America, measuring just 5″ inches in length with long curved beaks, and brown backs and white under parts. They have small bills and a short tail. Their wings are pointed, and they look like something halfway between a sparrow and a robin.

Is it a wren or a sparrow? ›

Comparing a Sparrow and a Wren
Bill shapeBroader than a wren.Thin, needle-like.
Tail lengthShort, but longer than a wren.Short, often pointed vertically.
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Apr 13, 2022

What is the difference between sparrows and Dunnocks? ›

Difference between a Dunnock and a Sparrow

The best places to look are the head and beak – where a house sparrow has a brown head with either a grey crown (male) or a brown crown (female), a dunnock has a blue-grey head. In addition, while sparrows have thick beaks, the beak of a dunnock is thin and pointy.

What does a wren bird look like? ›

Small, nondescript brown bird with a short tail, thin bill, and dark barring on wings and tail with a paler throat.

Is a junco a sparrow? ›

The Dark-eyed Junco is a medium-sized sparrow with a rounded head, a short, stout bill and a fairly long, conspicuous tail.

How do I identify a bird? ›

Bird watchers can identify many species from just a quick look. They're using the four keys to visual identification: Size & Shape, Color Pattern, Behavior, and Habitat.

What are those small brown birds called? ›

Small brown birds at your feeder are likely to be sparrows or female finches. However, they might be female blackbirds. They might be wrens!

What does a finch bird look like? ›

Adult males are rosy red around the face and upper breast, with streaky brown back, belly and tail. In flight, the red rump is conspicuous. Adult females aren't red; they are plain grayish-brown with thick, blurry streaks and an indistinctly marked face.

How big are chipping sparrows? ›

How many types of sparrow are there? ›

Old World sparrows

How many varieties of sparrows are there? ›

There are 43 species of New World sparrows commonly found in the United States and Canada (the family, Passerellidae, includes towhees, juncos, and the Lark Bunting). Most birds with “sparrow” in their English name are small and brown. Many have streaked backs; all have conical bills perfect for husking seeds.

What is the smallest sparrow in North America? ›

LeConte's sparrow (Ammospiza leconteii) is one of the smallest New World sparrow species in North America.
LeConte's sparrow
Species:A. leconteii
10 more rows

What is the biggest sparrow in the world? ›

Basic Description. It's not often that a sparrow takes center stage, but the Harris's Sparrow is a showstopper with its handsome black bib and pink bill. It's North America's largest sparrow (except for towhees) and the only songbird that breeds in Canada and nowhere else in the world.


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