All Sparrows in California with Pictures

We are excited to present the various sparrow species most typically seen in California, including images and precise data. To ensure that this information is accurate and dependable, we have consulted with an Ornithologist and only gathered our facts from reliable sources.

Swamp Sparrows

Swamp Sparrow

(Melospiza georgiana) are a common bird in California. They have a white belly and gray upperparts, with streaks running down the side of their heads and wings. Their bill is short and stubby, while their tail is long and deeply forked. They prefer areas near water sources such as marshes, wetlands, or ponds.

Swamp Sparrows feed on insects, spiders, and seeds. They prefer to forage in low vegetation near the ground, snatching up prey with their short bill. However, they are also known to visit backyard bird feeders in residential areas.

These birds typically grow to be about six inches in length and have a wingspan of around eleven inches.

Swamp Sparrows nest in thickets in grassy fields and marshes, though they are known to inhabit other types of habitat as well, including urban areas. They typically construct cup-shaped nests out of grasses and reeds.

These birds are generally quite active during the day, foraging for food and engaging in social behaviors such as singing. At night, they roost in thick vegetation or near the edges of wetlands and ponds. During migration, they can be seen flying in large flocks that often descend to rest on the ground.

Swamp Sparrow range map

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

(Melospiza melodia) is a small and highly variable species of sparrow common throughout much of the United States and parts of Canada. They measure approximately 4-7 inches in length, with wingspans ranging from 8-12 inches. Males typically have brown upperparts, pale gray to white underparts, and streaks on their cheeks, back, and breast. They also have a distinctive dark-streaked gray crown with a median stripe. Females are similar in coloration but often lack the central stripe on their crowns.

Song Sparrows inhabit a variety of habitats, including grasslands, shrublands, wetlands, open woods and agricultural fields. They mainly feed on insects, seeds and fruits. In California, they are most commonly found in riparian areas near water such as creeks or ponds.

Song Sparrows are generally shy birds that remain close to cover while foraging on the ground. During nesting season, they may become more bold and sing from an exposed perch or even fly up to catch insects in midair. They are also active during the day, although they may become more sluggish during hot weather.

Song Sparrows typically form monogamous pair bonds and build cup-shaped nests of grasses, bark strips, and moss lined with finer material such as hair or feathers. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs which hatch in 12 to 14 days. The male helps incubate the eggs and both parents feed the nestlings until they fledge at 10 to 13 days old.

Fox sparrows

Fox Sparrow

(Passerella iliaca) are a species of sparrow found in California. They have a distinctive rusty-red head and streaked body with distinct white eyebrow stripes, chestnut cheeks, whitish throat and upper breast and grey wings and tail. Fox Sparrows typically measure 6-7 inches in length and weigh 1-2 ounces.

Fox Sparrow prefer open woodlands, edges of forests, fields, thickets and scrub brush. They are primarily ground feeders who search for insects and other arthropods such as spiders and earthworms in leaf litter during the day. In the winter they may form flocks to feast on berries, weed seeds and grain from bird feeders.

Fox Sparrows are active, restless birds that often move along rapidly, scratching and hopping on the ground in search of food. They can be heard singing their loud warbling songs during the breeding season from April to July, where males will establish a territory to attract a mate. Both parents help incubate and feed the young, who stay in the nest for 10-12 days after hatching.

Fox Sparrows migrate south in winter, where they can be found in Mexico, Central America and northern South America. They return to California during the spring to breed and raise their young.

Fox Sparrow range map

House Sparrows

House Sparrow

(Passer domesticus) is a small bird species, native to Europe and the Middle East but now found across North America. The male House Sparrow has a black bib and white cheeks, while the female has brown upper parts and pale underparts. Its diet consists of seeds, weeds, grains, fruits, insects and other invertebrates.

The House Sparrow typically grows to a length of around 16 cm (6.3 in). Its habitat ranges from urban areas and agricultural land to open woodlands, scrubland and grassland. While it usually nests close to human habitation, it is also found in more isolated spots.

In California, the House Sparrow is a common sight in parks, gardens and other urban areas. It is an active bird, often seen perched on wires or fences or foraging for food on the ground. During breeding season it can be seen engaged in courtship displays and defending its territory with loud chirps.

House Sparrow range map

Bell’s Sparrow

Bell's Sparrow

(Artemisiospiza belli) is a medium-sized sparrow found in California and the deserts of Northwest Mexico. It has a distinct grayish brown coloration with white scalloping on its back, a yellow or buffy crown and face, and dark streaks along the breast. Its song is composed of two or three short notes followed by a rapidly trilled series of notes.

Bell’s Sparrows feed mainly on seeds, but also consume insects and other small invertebrates. They are typically found in habitats such as scrub deserts, riparian woodlands, chaparral, grasslands and agricultural lands. Bell’s Sparrows often nest in thick shrubs or trees, forming loose colonies.

They are fairly social birds, gathering in groups to forage or roost together at night. Breeding occurs during the spring and summer months. During this time they build cup-shaped nests high up in shrubs or trees, with a clutch of 1-6 eggs per nest. Young Bell’s Sparrows fledge after about 10-14 days.

Bell's Sparrow range map

California Towhee

California Towhee

(Melozone crissalis) is a small sparrow that is found mainly in western North America. It has distinctive black and rusty-brown plumage on its back, wings and head, with light brown to white underparts. The tail feathers are long and fan-like with a white tip at the end.

It feeds mainly on insects, seeds, and other small invertebrates. It is also known to visit bird feeders for seed and suet.

California Towhees are about 8 to 9 inches in length and have a wingspan of 11 to 12 inches. They typically inhabit open woodlands, chaparral scrubland, coastal sagebrush, and grasslands.

The behavior of the California Towhee is similar to other sparrows, often hopping on the ground while looking for food. They may also fly up into shrubs or trees to feed on fruit and nuts. The species is noisy, with loud calls consisting of an ascending whistled “chew-it” or a dry “tik”. They are known for their frequent drumming on objects like branches or tin cans. During the breeding season, males will often perform display flights and ritualized fights with other males to establish territories.

California Towhee range map

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow1

(Pooecetes gramineus) is a small passerine found in North and Central America. It typically inhabits open grasslands, meadows, and other areas with scattered low vegetation. This species can range in length from 13 to 16 centimeters, has a wingspan of 22 to 30 centimeters, and weighs around 17-22 grams.

The Vesper Sparrow is a drab-colored bird, with grayish brown upperparts and white underparts. The underside of its wings and tail are streaked with black or dark brown, while the head has pale yellow stripes running down each side and a light, scaly pattern on the crown. Its bill is short and yellowish-brown.

Vesper Sparrows eat a diet of grass, weed and cereal seeds, as well as some insects. They are typically seen foraging on the ground or perched close to vegetation, often in small flocks. This species is also known to feed on grains and other crops throughout the winter months.

Vesper Sparrow range map

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

(Spizella passerina) is a small, active bird found in California. It is typically 6-7 inches long with reddish-brown streaked back, white underparts and a tan stripe above its eyes. Its bill is short and conical, which it uses to crack open seeds from wild grasses or cereals. Chipping Sparrows feed on the ground, often in flocks, and will also eat insects.

Chipping Sparrows prefer open woodland areas or grassland habitats such as meadows, pastures and roadsides. They build cup-shaped nests using twigs and grasses in shrubs and low trees. In California they are known to nest in the branches of yucca plants.

Chipping Sparrows are very active birds that flit from place to place, often hovering over the ground while searching for food. They are also quite social, forming large flocks in migration and wintering areas. They sing an easily-recognized “chipping” song with a single note followed by two or more trills. This is usually heard during spring and early summer, as they are less vocal in the winter months.

The Chipping Sparrow is a very common bird in California and can be seen year-round throughout much of the state. It’s an important part of California’s ecosystem, helping to control insect populations and dispersing seeds of various grasses.

Chipping Sparrow range map

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

(Passerculus sandwichensis) is a medium-sized sparrow commonly found throughout California. It has a plain back with brown chevron stripes and yellowish eyebrows, throat, and breasts. Its wings are heavily striped with white and black barring. Savannah Sparrows are omnivorous, feeding on plant seeds, insects such as flies, beetles, and caterpillars, as well as spiders. They are small birds, typically measuring around 6-7 inches in length with a wingspan of 8-10 inches.

Savannah Sparrows can be found in a variety of habitats including grasslands, open woodlands, agricultural fields, salt marshes, and coastal scrub. During the winter months, they migrate south and can be found near the California coast. Savannah Sparrows are often solitary birds but have been known to flock in large numbers for feeding or during migration. They tend to nest on the ground or low shrubs and construct their nests using grasses and other plant materials.

Savannah Sparrow range map

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

(Zonotrichia leucophrys) is a medium-sized sparrow native birds to North America. It has mostly gray and black feathers on its back, with distinctive white stripes over its eyes and white patches on the sides of its head. The underside of the White-crowned Sparrow is typically light yellow or tan. This species typically grows to a length of 5 – 6 inches and weighs around 0.5 – 1.0 oz.

The White-crowned Sparrow is most commonly found in open habitats with thick brush and high grasses, such as deserts, meadows, and wetlands. They are also often seen in urban parks in California. The White-crowned Sparrow mainly feeds on various seeds and insects, but will also eat snails and berries. When searching for food, they usually pluck items off the ground or from low-lying vegetation.

When it comes to behavior, the White-crowned Sparrow is highly social with other birds of its species. They are especially likely to group together in the winter months for warmth, and will also form flocks to protect themselves from predators. They are also known for their singing ability, and can often be heard chirping away during dawn and dusk.

White-crowned Sparrow range map

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

(Junco hyemalis) is a small sparrow found in much of the Western and Central United States, including California. This species measures about 4 to 6 inches (10 – 15 cm) long and has grayish brown or olive-brown upperparts, with white underparts. Its flanks are streaked with black, while the tail and wings are gray. The head has a black hood and distinct white eyebrow stripe, with a yellow bill.

Dark-eyed Juncos can be found in open woodlands, meadows, fields, and gardens in California. They feed on seeds and insects foraged from the ground or gleaned from plants and trees. During winter months they often come to bird feeders and scratch the ground for food.

In terms of behavior, Dark-eyed Juncos can be quite friendly with people. They are often seen hopping around bushes and lawns in small flocks. During winter months, many juncos gather in large flocks and form communal roosts near sources of food. They are also known to form breeding pairs in the summer months, with the male singing a distinct song to attract its mate.

Dark-eyed Juncos make their nests in shrubs or small trees. The nest is made from twigs, roots and grasses, lined with feathers and other soft materials. The female typically lays three to five eggs, which she incubates for about two weeks. The female also tends to the young after they hatch, while the male brings food to both her and the young birds.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

(Melospiza lincolnii) is a small passerine bird native to western North America. It is about 15 cm in length with a wingspan of 25-27 cm and weighs around 22 g. Lincoln’s Sparrows are brownish above and pale gray below, with brown streaks on their sides and a white throat. They have a thin, white eyering and distinct streaking on their chest and throat.

Lincoln’s Sparrows inhabit open, wet habitats in California including meadows, shrubby wetlands, grasslands, and swamps. They feed mainly on insects such as beetles, caterpillars, ants, and grasshoppers. Additionally they will eat spiders or small seeds.

Lincoln’s Sparrows can be seen during the breeding season in California from April to August. During the winter they migrate south, usually to Central America or northern South America. They can also occasionally be found in coastal areas of California and along the Gulf Coast states.

Lincoln’s Sparrows are shy birds that are usually found in pairs or small flocks. They are elusive ground feeders and will often scurry into thickets when disturbed. During the breeding season, Lincoln’s Sparrows can be heard singing a loud, clear song consisting of two parts. The male sings to attract a mate and defend his territory against other males.

Lincoln's Sparrow range map

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

(Zonotrichia albicollis) is found in California, and is a medium-sized sparrow with distinctive white throat and yellow feathers on the sides of their head. The White-throated Sparrow has a brown upper body with black stripes running down its back. It also has white or tan chest and belly, as well as white outer tail feathers. This species has a diet of mainly insects, seeds and berries, as well as occasional snacks of snails and spiders.

White-throated Sparrows are typically found in coniferous or deciduous forests, but can also be seen in dense shrubland areas. They nest on the ground near trees or shrubs and are found in pairs or small flocks during winter months. During the breeding season, they may form larger flocks and perform elaborate singing rituals to attract a mate. They have also been known to build large nesting colonies.

White-throated Sparrows are active during the day, often searching for food on the ground or in nearby trees. They often use their distinctive call, described as a loud “tsip” sound, to communicate with other members of the flock. Despite their small size and peaceful nature, they are fierce defenders of their territories and will fight off intruders. This species is also known for its hardiness; it can survive cold winter months and forage for food when other birds have gone into hibernation.

White-throated Sparrow range map

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

(Ammodramus savannarum) is a species of sparrow native to North America. It can be found in grasslands, meadows and agricultural fields throughout California. These birds measure 5-5.5 inches long, have short legs and a short, slightly curved bill. They have brown upperparts with pale streaks on their back and wings, white underparts with dark streaks on the breast and a buffy eyebrow.

Grasshopper Sparrows eat mainly seeds and insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and caterpillars. In winter they feed on waste grain in plowed fields. They forage by hopping along the ground or perching and then swooping down to snatch their prey.

Grasshopper Sparrows form monogamous pairs, nesting on the ground in a shallow depression lined with plant material. The female builds the nest and lays 4-5 eggs which are incubated by both parents for 11-14 days before hatching. Young birds fledge after 8-10 days and are fed by the parents for up to 25 days.

Grasshopper Sparrows are shy, secretive birds which prefer open grasslands with little or no shrub cover. They can be found singly or in small flocks during the summer months but form larger flocks during migration and winter. To communicate, males sing a distinctive ‘buzzy’ song from an exposed perch.

Grasshopper Sparrow range map

Lark Sparrows

Lark Sparrow

(Chondestes grammacus) is a bird which can be found in California. It has an unmarked brown head and face with a large, white eyebrow stripe, along with gray-streaked upperparts and white underparts. Its size ranges from 13 to 15 cm long and its wingspan spans around 24 cm.

The Lark Sparrow mainly feeds on seeds and insects. Its diet consists of various types of grasses, grains, weed seeds, as well as spiders and caterpillars.

This species is found in open fields, grasslands and agricultural areas in California. It will also take up residence in city parks where natural habitats are not available.

The Lark Sparrow is a ground-dwelling species and tends to forage on the ground in open areas. It is also known to be a social bird, often gathering in small flocks. During breeding season, they may form larger groups of up to 30 individuals. In winter, these flocks become more dispersed and can be observed in large, open areas.

Lark Sparrow range map

Brewer’s Sparrow

Brewer's Sparrow

(Spizella breweri) is a small, seed-eating bird found in California. It has olive-brown upperparts, white underparts and pale streaks on its back and wings. Its head is brownish-gray with a buffy eyebrow stripe. It has a long tail with white patches at the base of the feathers.

The Brewer’s Sparrow can reach a length of five to six inches, with a wingspan of about seven and a half inches.

Brewer’s Sparrows inhabit open brushy areas and grasslands in California. They feed on seeds and insects found on the ground or gleaned from vegetation. During the breeding season, they build a cup-shaped nest of twigs and grass, lined with fine grasses or hair.

The Brewer’s Sparrows are quite social and often travel in flocks. They can be seen perching on shrubs or trees during the day and foraging on the ground at night. During breeding season, they become more territorial, displaying courtship behavior and defending their nests from intruders.

In California, the Brewer’s Sparrow is listed as a species of special concern due to declining populations caused by habitat destruction and other human-related impacts. Conservation efforts are in place to protect this beautiful bird and its habitat.

Brewer's Sparrow range map

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

(Aimophila ruficeps) are common small songbirds found in the western United States and Mexico. These birds have a striking appearance, with a gray-brown head, white throat, bold black eye mask, short tail, and distinctive rusty crown. They measure about 5 to 6 inches in length and weigh around 14 grams.

Rufous-crowned Sparrows inhabit open areas such as grasslands, shrub lands, and agricultural fields. They feed mainly on insects, but will also eat berries and seeds. During the breeding season, they build dome-shaped nests in low shrubs or grass clumps and lay eggs of a light blue color with brown spots.

In California, Rufous-crowned Sparrows can be seen year-round in the northern part of the state, while they are only present during winter months in southern regions. They form small flocks and wander widely to forage for food. Like most sparrow species, they are active during the day and roost in protected areas at night.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow range map

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

(Spizelloides arborea) is a migratory species that can be found in California from late October to early May. It is small and plump, measuring between 5-6 inches in length and weighing about 0.4 ounces with a wingspan of 8-10 inches. This sparrow has pale brown upperparts, light underparts, a rusty cap and two white wingbars. The male has a rufous crown patch on the back of its head.

American Tree Sparrows feed mainly on seeds and grains as well as some insects. They prefer open grasslands or other open areas with plenty of low vegetation and sparse trees. They can often be seen perched on fences or low shrubs. This species is typically found in groups and is known for its melodious chirping songs. During the winter, flocks of American Tree Sparrows can often be seen in agricultural fields, looking for food as well as seeking warmth. They are also known to visit bird feeders during this time of year.

American Tree Sparrow range map

Sagebrush Sparrow

Sagebrush Sparrow

(Artemisiospiza nevadensis) is a medium-sized songbird found in western North America. It is approximately 4 to 5 inches long, with streaked brown upperparts and whitish under parts. Its wings are short and pointed, and its tail is square at the tip.

The Sagebrush Sparrow’s diet consists mostly of insects, seeds, and grains. It forages on the ground or in low vegetation, using its bill to scratch away dirt and debris in search of food.

They are found in dry open habitats such as sagebrush steppes, semi-desert grasslands and shrublands, and agricultural fields. They often build their nests in dense shrubs or low trees.

Sagebrush Sparrows are usually found in pairs or small family groups, and they often defend their territories from other birds by singing and chasing intruders away. During the breeding season, both sexes will sing to attract mates and maintain territories. In winter months, Sagebrush Sparrows form large flocks to forage together. They migrate southward in the fall, and return northwards in spring.

Sagebrush Sparrow range map

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

(Pipilo maculatus) is found in California and other western states. It has a strong bill, with a black crown and white throat, as well as distinct spotting on its wings and back. Its diet consists of insects, seeds, fruits, and berries. They can grow up to 7-11 inches long and have a wingspan of 11-15 inches.

Spotted Towhees are found in woodlands, shrublands, and open areas with shrubs or trees nearby. They prefer to nest near the ground in low bushes or on the ground in grassy hillsides.

Spotted Towhees are often seen hopping around on the ground searching for food. They have a habit of kicking leaves and twigs in order to search for insects underneath them. When disturbed, they will flutter up into the air before flying away.

When communicating, Spotted Towhees often give off a loud “drink-your-tea” call as well as other calls and a variety of soft song-like songs. They also have a wide range of visual signals including bill wiping, wing flicking, and tail fanning.

Spotted Towhee range map

American Pipit

American Pipit

(Anthus rubescens) is a small sparrow native to North America, found primarily in the western and central parts of the continent. In California, it can be seen across many habitats including coastal scrub and chaparral, riparian woodlands, grasslands, agricultural fields, and wetlands. It has an olive-brown upper body with white and dark streaking, a white underside with dark streaks, and a long tail.

The American Pipit’s diet consists mainly of insects such as beetles, spiders, moths, and grasshoppers. It also eats small seeds from various grasses, such as foxtail and brome. During the winter months, it may feed on berries, fruits, and nuts.

The American Pipit is a small bird; it averages between 4-6 inches in length and has a wingspan of 8-12 inches. It weighs around 0.6 ounces.

American Pipit range map

What sparrows live in California?

California is home to many different species of sparrows, including the California towhee (Melozone crissalis), the spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus), the rufous-crowned sparrow (Aimophila ruficeps), and the song sparrow (Melospiza melodia). Other sparrows found in California include the black-chinned sparrow (Spizella atrogularis), the white crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys), and the golden crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla).

Some of these species are migratory, while others are year-round residents. All of these species can be found in various habitats throughout California, including forests, grasslands, deserts, and suburban areas. As with other birds in the state, it is important to follow all regulations when observing or photographing sparrows in California.

What does a California sparrow look like?

The California sparrow is a small songbird that typically measures between 4.5-5.5 inches (11.43-14 cm) in length, with males being slightly larger than females. Its upperparts are a pale brown color, while its underparts are greyish-white. It has two white wingbars and a distinctive pinkish-brown streaked breast. Its head is darker than its body, being a grey-brown color with darker brown streaks on its crown and cheeks. It also has yellow legs and a beak that is pink to dark brown in color. The California sparrow is an active forager and feeds primarily on insects.

What sparrows live in Southern California?

The most common type of sparrow found in Southern California is the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus). This species is native to Europe, North Africa, and temperate regions of Asia, but has been introduced to many other parts of the world.

Other sparrows commonly seen in Southern California include the Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), the White-Crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) and the California Towhee (Melozone crissalis). The Dark-Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) is also commonly seen in Southern California, although it is more closely related to a finch than a sparrow.

There are several other species of sparrows that can occasionally be found in the region, including the Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena), the Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) and the Harris’ Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula). All of these birds are primarily seedeaters, though they may also eat insects or other small invertebrates.

What bird is mistaken for a sparrow?

A common mistaking of a sparrow is the House Finch. The house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) is a small passerine bird in the finch family Fringillidae native to North America. It has been introduced to other parts of the world, including Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand. Though similar in appearance to the American sparrow, house finches have a slightly larger bill and more reddish coloration on their heads, breasts, and rumps.

They are also usually larger than sparrows. House finches can easily be distinguished by their distinctive calls, which sound like “chip-churr” or “chee-churr”. House finches can also be distinguished by their behavior, as they often feed in flocks and are more sociable than sparrows.