When I was a boy in junior high, I loved all animals, and I thought I knew something about pretty much all of them.
Then I was given the Golden Guide Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and I was amazed at the fantastic number of sparrows. I had thought that there was the duck, the hawk, the sparrow.
But then I turned page after page of sparrows and I realized that really, I knew nothing. And it’s so much more to learn. I’m Kevin McGowan. Let’s talk about sparrows.
[Brewer’s Sparrow singing] Sparrows are a challenging group to be sure. That’s because lots of them look pretty much alike. These are the quintessential little, brown birds. But sparrows are everywhere, so it’s definitely worth getting to know them.
I often think of sparrows as kind of the anti-warblers. Sparrows aren’t as colorful as warblers, they’re mostly brown and subtly marked. And sparrows don’t like trees the way warblers do, so you won’t strain your neck having to look up at them.
Sparrows like grass and shrubs and pretty much stick to eye level or below. You may even see some at your feeder. But some of them are more secretive and give you only glimpses. So it pays to know sparrows from different angles and to learn their various bits and pieces.
Luckily, they’re famous for their songs. And sparrow songs are variable enough to help you with ID. From the musical Song Sparrow [Song Sparrow singing] to the insect-like Grasshopper Sparrow, [Grasshopper Sparrow singing] you can look forward to an exciting diversity of distinctive sounds from sparrows.
In this course, I’ll go through the most important things you need to know about sparrows. I’ll introduce all the sparrows commonly found in North America and help you through some difficult IDs. We’ll talk about their shape, their markings, their songs, and their behavior. All important clues to identification.
You get the chance to practice what you learn with our quizzes, and our Snap ID tool, which you can use over and over again to hone your powers of sparrow ID. Sparrows can be hard, but they’re worth the effort. They’re not flashy, but they have a subtle beauty that you learn to appreciate with experience.
I hope you’ll join me in this course to talk about sparrows.End of transcript
Be a Better Birder: Sparrow Identification
"Sparrows can be challenging, I know! But they’re worth the effort and I’ll help you through it. You’ll use all the tools in your bird identification toolbox and come out the other side being able to distinguish all those little brown birds that you see."
Helping You Learn Sparrow ID
With a world-class instructor and exclusive learning tools, this course will transform your sparrow identification skills.
- Packed with expert tips on tricky IDs
- Get to know each species with Keys to ID and a video portrait
- Plenty of practice opportunities with the SnapID tool
Bird Academy has developed a unique approach to learning bird identification. Our SnapID tool helps you practice identifying birds in all different postures and lighting conditions and builds your confidence through winning streaks.
Try out SnapID now!
Learn with short training videos for a total of 4+ hours of instruction. Train for field conditions with 5+ hours of photo ID practice. Hone your birding strategies through Keys to ID and comprehensive quizzes after each lesson. Absorb gestures and song through video portraits of each species. Have the sparrows at your fingertips with 4 free ID poster downloads.
Try a Sample Lesson
Dive into the lesson for the White-crowned Sparrow—just one of the 49 species covered in the course.Take the Free Sample Lesson
Meet the Course Instructor
Course instructor Kevin McGowan combines deep knowledge about birds with a passion for helping others learn. He is a professional ornithologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and one of the world’s foremost experts on the behavior of crows. Kevin is also an accomplished birder and World Series of Birding champion. Among his contributions to Bird Academy, he created the popular Be a Better Birder series of courses and live webinars and co-authored the university-level Ornithology: Comprehensive Bird Biology course.
Get introduced to the variety of sparrows living in the United States and Canada. Learn the different taxonomic groups, and see what makes a sparrow a sparrow.
Sparrow Size and Shape
Size and shape are important clues to identification for many kinds of birds, but they’re not as useful for distinguishing among the sparrows. Learn when they can help, and when they don’t.
Sparrow Color Pattern and Markings
Color pattern can be important in distinguishing among these mostly brown birds. Getting a good enough look at a sparrow to see them all isn’t always easy. Learn to know what to look for so you can make the most of the glimpses you get.
Sparrow Behavior and Sounds
Behavior is a good clue to recognizing sparrows. Learn what to watch for. One of the best ways to both find and identify sparrows is by their songs. Learn how to think about bird song, so you can learn the important skill of identifying sparrow songs.
Sparrow Habitat and Range
Many sparrow species specialize in particular habitats, and others have restricted ranges. Paying attention to where you are in the world and what habitat you saw the bird in can help you come to the right ID.
Learn about the sparrows that can be found all across the United States and Canada. This lesson includes in-depth coverage of 14 species.
Learn about the sparrows that can be found primarily west of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. This lesson includes in-depth coverage of 19 species.
Learn about the sparrows that can be found primarily east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Mississippi River. This lesson includes in-depth coverage of 9 species.
Learn about the sparrows that can be found primarily east of the Great Plains. This lesson includes in-depth coverage of 7 species.
Finding Sparrows Near You
Free Sound Collection and ID Guides Included
Included with this course is a free download of more than 250 sound recordings from the sparrow species found in the U.S. and Canada. Use this collection to learn the geographic variation in sparrow songs and extend your ID skills. You’ll find download links in the final course lesson— you can stream and download the recordings at your convenience. A $14.99 value.
We’ll also give you a helpful, four-sheet sparrow reference guide that you can download, print out, and bring with you into the field.
This Course is Entirely Online
There’s nothing to be shipped, and no additional material is necessary. Bird Academy courses are online, self-paced, and there is no deadline to complete them. You can return to them for reference or practice as often as you want. All course material, practice tools, instructional videos, and quizzes are available through your web browser. Learn anytime, anywhere*. Gain the skills and understanding you’re looking for.
*Requires an internet connection and a modern web browser.
Hear What Students Have to Say
Bird Academy’s Warbler Identification course from Kevin McGowan follows the same format. Hear what students have to say about Kevin and his approach.
It was helpful to have the instructor identify the most important field marks for each bird. When you're looking at a book you have no idea what's most important."Bird Academy Student
I found many more warblers this spring thanks to this class. I knew they were there and how to look and listen for them. I also trusted my observations more, the course gave me confidence."Bird Academy Student
Having this as a self-paced course was essential for me. Being tied down to a date and time is hard for my schedule. The instructor was excellent - clearly presented. Fabulous photography. Loved it!"Bird Academy Student