Backyard Wildlife: Sparrows

By Ellen Lambeth

These small songbirds may not seem so flashy at first. But they all deserve a second look—and a listen.

Tap image for a closer view.

You might see a sparrow and not notice any special features at all—just that it’s small and brown. Even if you can tell it’s a sparrow, you might have trouble telling which kind, since there are many different species. Using a bird field guide with maps and descriptions will help you narrow it down.

On these pages, you’ll meet a few sparrows that could turn up in your own neighborhood—maybe even at a backyard feeder. Discover how to tell them apart.


You can find this sparrow in a shrubby or wet area, not too high up. Look for the brown streaks on its pale breast with a big spot in the center. And listen for its loud, lively song.

Tap image for a closer view.


You can’t miss the bright rusty cap on this cute little sparrow’s head. The bird gets its name from the sounds it makes. It “chips” to alert other chipping sparrows. And during breeding season, the male combines rapid chips into a trilling song.


Can you tell how this sparrow got its name? It’s easy to see the black and white stripes on its head. The bird even seems to be lifting up its crown feathers a bit here to give you a better look.


Like the white-crowned sparrow, this one also has black and white stripes on its head. But the throat patch is what gives it its name. And don’t overlook its bright yellow “eyebrows.” Some think this sparrow’s song sounds like Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody. Others think it sounds like Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada. What do YOU think it’s saying?


If you live in the countryside, you might hear the bouncing ball rhythm of this sparrow’s song. And if the bird pops into view, see if you notice its pink bill and the white ring around each eye.


Fox sparrows are big and streaky. Eastern fox sparrows like this one are reddish. Western ones are darker. And like song sparrows, a fox sparrow has a dark splotch in the middle of its chest. You’ll usually see this sparrow on the ground, scratching up little creepy-crawlies to eat.


This is one of the most common birds in the whole world. It didn’t get its start in the Americas. People brought some in from Europe in the 1800s, and the birds spread far and wide. House sparrows aren’t even closely related to American sparrows. The male has a black “bib.” The female just looks like an ordinary little brown bird. Wherever people live, you’ll probably find house sparrows, too.


We thank the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for the bird songs provided here. Learn more about these sparrows—or any North American bird—by visiting the Cornell Lab’s website:

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