Listen for the Sweet Sounds of a Song Sparrow

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Learn how to identify a song sparrow. Find out what these musical sparrows look like and sound like, and learn about their nests and eggs.

What Does a Song Sparrow Look Like?

Roland Jordahl
Song sparrow

Distinctive markings: A song sparrow is coarsely streaked, dark on back and light underneath, with streaks on its sides that join to form a central breast spot. Its crown is brown with a narrow stripe, and a broader grayish stripe over each eye.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman write, “These sparrows molt into a fresh plumage in fall, with brand-new feathers, so their markings are sharper from fall to early spring. By summer, after the adult birds have worked hard to raise their young, the feathers look more worn and frayed, and the browns may have faded to a more reddish brown. Typical markings include the face pattern, with its bold ‘whisker mark’ at the edge of the throat.”

Did you know: Song sparrows can be paler, darker, redder, grayer, larger or smaller, depending on your location. Ornithologists recognize dozens of subspecies of these adaptable birds.

Learn how to identify a chipping sparrow and an American tree sparrow.

Song Sparrow Facts

song sparrowCourtesy Emily Mccabe

  • Scientific Name: Melospiza melodia
  • Family: Sparrow
  • Length: 5-1/2 to 7 inches
  • Wingspan: 8-1/4 inches

Meet the white-crowned sparrow and white-throated sparrow.

Nest and Eggs

This bird constructs a well-hidden ground or low nest of grasses, weed stems, leaves and bark fibers lined with finer materials. The three to five eggs laid inside are a dark-splotched greenish white.

Learn how to identify a Lincoln’s sparrow.

What Do Song Sparrows Eat?

Bnbbyc17 Stuart Allison 2Courtesy Stuart Allison

Diet: In fall and winter, song sparrows eat small weed and grass seeds. In summer, these small birds eat lots of insects. Attract them to a ground-level tray feeder with bird seed, located near a brush pile. If you’d like to bring more native sparrows to your yard, here’s how.

Psst—don’t forget native sparrows at bird feeders.

Song and Call

Listen for three clear notes of “sweet, sweet, sweet” followed by shorter notes and a trill. Its distinctive call note is “chimp.” Because they learn the structure of their music from others, local “dialects” are commonly heard. They are one of the top songbirds in America with the prettiest songs.

Hear the sound of the song sparrow’s song.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Range Map and Habitat

These birds like low, open, weedy or brushy areas around farms and residential areas.

Song Sparrow Bird Species

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.

Next, learn about house sparrows: Least wanted backyard birds.

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Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find he reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.