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Sparrow Imposters – Birds That Look Like Sparrows

house finch

This fractured syllogism highlights a common misconception:

– All sparrows are small, brown streaked birds.

– I saw a small, streaked brown bird.

– Therefore the bird I saw was a sparrow.

There are many birds that look like sparrows, but which are not. Here are a few birds that look like sparrows.


Female House Finch

House Finches

Female House Finches and sparrows are both small, brownish-gray birds that can often be found in similar habitats, such as urban and suburban areas, gardens, and open woodlands.

Males are easy to tell apart, but both female House Finches and sparrows are brownish in color. Looking at the plumage is one way to tell them apart, but this is not always foolproof. House Sparrows have darker wings and their underside is not striped.

But on the contrary, Song Sparrows look uncannily similar to female House Finches. They too have stripes on their underside, but the belly area is not usually striped.

Here’s how to tell apart these brown sparrow-like birds:

  • House Finches have a short, thick cone-shaped beak.
  • Compared to sparrows, House Finches are slightly smaller – around 5-6 inches compared to the sparrow’s average length of 6-7 inches.
  • House Finches are often more active and social.


Pine Siskin 

pine siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskins and sparrows are both small, brownish birds that can be found in similar habitats, such as forests, woodlands, and open areas with trees and shrubs.

They look fairly similar to most sparrows, but Pine Siskins have darker wing bars than most sparrows. There are some yellow tones on their wings too, which sparrows lack.

  • Pine Siskins are slightly smaller – 4-5 inches (sparrows 6-7 inches)
  • Pine Siskins have a thin, pointed beak.
  • Head: Pine Siskins have a narrow, pointed head with a short bill.


Female Red-winged Blackbird

red-winged blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbirds and sparrows are both small to medium-sized. Red-winged Blackbirds are significantly larger though. Males are easy to recognize, by their black plumage and red spots on the wings, but males can look fairly similar to sparrows.

The plumage of female Red-winged Blackbirds features much darker stripes. Plus, the top of their heads have slightly larger black stripes, while sparrows generally do not.

  • Female Red-winged Blackbirds are larger than sparrows – around 7-9 inches.
  • Red-winged Blackbirds have a long and pointed beak.
  • Red-winged Blackbirds have a relatively long tail.


American Pipit

american pipit

American Pipit

American Pipits and sparrows are both small, brownish birds but they are not so similar. Let’s compare some differences.

Compared to sparrows, American Pipits have a slightly different body shape. Sparrows have shorter and buffer bodies, while American Pipits look like stretched-out versions of them. They are also a bit larger in size.

Plumage-wise, they are quite similar to Vesper Sparrows, but American Pipits tend to have some softer hues in their plumage.

  • American Pipits are larger than sparrows.
  • American Pipits have a thin, pointed beak.
  • American Pipits have a relatively long, thin tail.


Lark Bunting

lark bunting

Lark Bunting

Identification of Lark Buntings.

It’s impossible to confuse a male Lark Bunting for a sparrow. Males have blackish plumage, but female Lark Buntings can look similar to sparrows from afar.

Lark Buntings are very different from sparrows in many ways. At first sight, their body shape doesn’t look similar to sparrows, plus the bill is one of the most noticeable differences as well. Apart from that, female Lark Buntings have different wings, there is much more white.

  • Lark Buntings are same as bigger sparrows or slightly larger than most of them.
  • Male Lark Buntings have a distinctive black plumage with white wing patches
  • Lark Buntings have a short, conical beak (similar to female house finch)


Dark-Eyed Junco


Dark-Eyed Junco

Here’s a change-up.  The Dark-eyed Junco does not look like the typical sparrow, but it is a member of the sparrow family.

Named after their dark eyes, Dark-eyed Juncos have much darker plumage. Their plumage varies by region, but is usually blackish, with varying amounts of brown.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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