photo © Sam Crowe
Groups of little brown birds that hop around underfoot in cities, parks, and farms — how can you tell what is a finch and what is a sparrow? Even harder, how can you differentiate between the many possible species that you could be looking at? Well luckily, if you’re in an area of human settlement like the three types of places listed above, the likelihood that you’re faced with House Sparrows or House Finches is much increased, because these species thrive on our leftovers or birdseed and are extremely common.

  • If you catch any glimpses of red, then you can be fairly sure you’ve just seen a House Finch. The males of this species have red faces, breasts, and rumps. By contrast, House Sparrow males have gray heads, whitish cheeks, and a black bib under the chin.
  • photo © Tiny Gehrke
  • One of the biggest differences between House Finches and House Sparrows, if you’re not used to distinguishing between color patterns, is their beaks. House Finches have large, thick beaks of a grayish color. House Sparrows have a much more conical bill that is smaller than finches’, and the bill is black or yellow, depending on the bird’s gender and breeding stage.
  • House Sparrows’ color pattern is in general darker than that of House Finches, with deeper browns and more black in the back and wings. House Finches, both male and female, have significant brown streaking on their flanks and belly compared to House Sparrows and also similar finch species like the Purple Finch or Cassin’s Finch.

Again, don’t forget that with these two species, one of the key identifiers is location, location, location! If you want to solidify your sparrow identification skills, you can check out this guide.