Sparrows in Missouri

Sparrows in Missouri – 22 Beautiful, Captivating Local Birds

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There’s been a remarkable 437 bird species recorded in Missouri since records began. Prairies and farmland, as well as forested mountain ranges, offer an array of habitats for all kinds of birds in the ‘Show Me’ state, including more than 20 types of sparrows.

Sparrows are some of the most familiar and endearing backyard birds. Yet because so many of these ‘little brown jobs’ look so alike, it can be tricky to tell them apart.

One of the best ways to get a closer look at several sparrow species is to offer them bird feeders or a bird bath that you can watch from your window. Other kinds of sparrows prefer life out in the wild and require a good pair of binoculars to spot and identify them.

In this guide, I’m going to walk you through 22 fascinating sparrow species that can be found in Missouri, offering my top tips on how to distinguish even the most difficult species. Let’s get started!

22 Sparrows in Missouri, Starting With the Most Common

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Juncos
  • Scientific Name: Junco hyemalis
  • Length: 5.5-6.3 in (14-16 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz (18-30 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.1-9.8 in (18-25 cm)

Despite only being present in Missouri during the colder months, dark-eyed juncos can be considered the most common sparrow in the state due to the enormous flocks that settle here during the winter. The first birds return to the state from their breeding grounds in October, and the last ones leave again in April.

Dark-eyed Juncos are sometimes known as ‘snow birds’ because they appear to be so hardy. You can help them out during the cold winter months by offering them sunflower seeds, peanuts, and other oily grains.

Although there are regional variations of dark-eyed juncos, the ones that you’ll see in Missouri are almost certainly the ‘slate-colored’ variety. According to my Sibley Guide to Birds, the red-bodied Oregon dark-eyed juncos are only very occasional visitors here.

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House Sparrow

House Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Passer domesticus
  • Length: 5.9-6.7 in (15-17 cm)
  • Weight: 0.9-1.1 oz (27-30 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.5-9.8 in (19-25 cm)

House sparrows aren’t native to Missouri, or any other state in America. They were brought to New York in 1852 by European settlers to control insect pests. Not surprisingly, their numbers got out of control, and they soon spread across the entire country.

Now seen everywhere, house sparrows can be sighted around buildings every day of the year in Missouri. Their presence sometimes concerns ornithologists, since these assertive birds often take over the nesting grounds of native species.

House sparrows, belonging to a different family to the native American sparrows, look quite distinctive and don’t migrate, but stay within the same territories year-round. Despite being an invasive species, they are endearing birds and can even be trained to eat out of your hand!

White-throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Zonotrichia albicollis
  • Length: 6.3-7.1 in (16-18 cm)
  • Weight: 0.8-1.1 oz (22-32 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9-9.1 in (20-23 cm)

The white-throated sparrow is fairly easy to recognize from the black and white stripes on their head, yellow ‘eyebrows’ (or ‘lores’), and white throat. Some variants, however, may have tan head stripes instead of white.

These medium-sized sparrows are hardy little critters and only stay in Missouri during winter. In summer they nest mainly in Canada and a few of the northernmost States of America.

These are easy sparrows to attract to backyard and woodland bird feeders. Feeding them can help them through the winter, which can occasionally turn very bitter in Missouri!

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Melospiza melodia
  • Length: 4.7-6.7 in (12-17 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-1.9 oz (12-53 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.1-9.4 in (18-24 cm)

The song sparrow is one of the most common sparrows across the United States, and Missouri is no exception! If you see a little brown bird singing loudly in your garden or hedgerow, there’s a good chance it’s a song sparrow.

The appearance of these medium-sized sparrows can easily be confused with many other species, but it’s their constant song that, once learned, makes them easy to identify. It consists of 3 short notes followed by a varied trill, and is sometimes referred to by birders as Madge-Madge-Madge, put-on-your-tea-kettle-ettle-ettle!

Song sparrows are present around the year in the northern half of Missouri but only visit the southern part of the state during the winter. You can easily attract these noisy sparrows to your backyard feeders by offering them cracked corn, black oil sunflower seeds, and other grains.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Spizella passerina
  • Length: 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz (11-16 g)
  • Wingspan: 8.3 in (21 cm)

Chipping sparrows can be recognized by their rusty crown, black eye line, and gray chest. Their stuttered trilling call is also fairly distinctive. Think of the sound of a high-pitched squeaky wheel that needs greasing!

During the breeding season, Missouri is full of chipping sparrows busy nesting in shrubs and trees. At this time of year, they prefer to inhabit open woodlands and woodland edges with grassy surroundings. This can include city parks and wooded neighborhoods.

These fair-weather visitors are long gone in the colder months. They prefer to spend their winters in the southernmost states of the US, as well as Central America.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Spizella passerina
  • Length: 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz (11-16 g)
  • Wingspan: 8.3 in (21 cm)

During the breeding season, Missouri is full of chipping sparrows busy nesting in shrubs and trees. In winter, most individuals fly to more southerly states and even Central America.

In mild winters, it may be possible to see small populations remaining in the south of the state, and this is likely to increase with climate change.

Chipping sparrows can be recognized by their rusty crown, black eye line, and gray chest. Their stuttered trilling call is also fairly distinctive. Think of the sound of a high-pitched squeaky wheel that needs greasing!

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Spizella pusilla
  • Length: 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.5 oz (11-15 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9 in (20 cm)

A cousin of the chipping sparrow, field sparrows are fairly difficult to distinguish by appearance alone, yet can be told apart from similar-looking species by their loud, high-pitched call that sounds bizarrely like a metallic bouncing ball coming to a stop!

You can find these smallish sparrows in the southern half of Missouri throughout the year, but only in the north of the state during the spring and summer. They nest on the ground and, once hatched, their young only take about one week to fledge!

Although they are common, their numbers are declining, probably due to intensive agriculture and the loss of the weedy fields that they enjoy inhabiting. You can find out more about protecting declining species of sparrow on the American Bird Conservancy’s website.

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee
  • Scientific Name: Pipilo erythrophthalmus
  • Length: 6.8-8.2 in (17.3-20.8 cm)
  • Weight: 1.1-1.8 oz (32-52 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9-11.0 in (20-28 cm)

They might not look or sound like a sparrow, but the eastern towhee is just as much part of the New World Sparrows as any of the rest on our list! These beautiful birds have a black head, wings, and tail, dark, ruby red eyes, rusty red flanks, and a white belly.

Eastern towhees seem to have a special affinity for Missouri. While they are more of a seasonal bird in the surrounding states, you can find them throughout the state here at all times of the year. Look out for them scratching about in the undergrowth for seeds, snails, millipedes, and insects.

An interesting fact about the eastern towhee is that they’re often the victims of brood parasitism of brown-headed cowbirds. Just like cuckoos, cowbirds remove the eastern towhee’s eggs from its nest and lay their own. If the towhees don’t notice the trick, they’ll end up raising the cowbird’s young instead of their own!

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Zonotrichia leucophrys
  • Length: 5.9-6.3 in (15-16 cm)
  • Weight: 0.9-1.0 oz (25-28 g)
  • Wingspan: 8.3-9.4 in (21-24 cm)

The white-crowned sparrow is fairly easy to recognize by their black and white striped head and orange-pink bill. They are also fairly large sparrows with long tails and necks.

Missouri is purely winter country for these hardy sparrows. These songbirds don’t overwinter much further north than Missouri, and spend the breeding season in the far north of Canada, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains.

You can find these largish sparrows moving around in large flocks over weedy and brushy areas in winter, and you can also attract them to your backyard by offering sunflower seeds, millet, and other types of bird food.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Melospiza georgiana
  • Length: 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.5-0.8 oz (15-23 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.1-7.5 in (18-19 cm)

Swamp sparrows are tiny birds with an affinity for water. They prefer to nest in boggy ground in summer, and grassy areas near water in the winter. As a secretive species, they can be difficult to spot and identify, but a few yellow feathers near their beaks can be seen with a pair of binoculars.

Despite their small size, swamp sparrows have a large migratory range that extends from Central America to Northern Canada. They can occasionally be persuaded to stop off in backyards by offering them a bird bath.

It’s impressive that such a tiny bird can survive winters in Missouri, but these hardy critters can be found in grassy places throughout the entire state during the colder months. They don’t breed here, but they do in neighboring Iowa.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Spizelloides arborea
  • Length: 5.5 in (14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.5-1.0 oz (13-28 g)
  • Wingspan: 9.4 in (24 cm)

This sparrow’s name is a misnomer. It was so-called by European settlers who thought that it reminded them of their native tree sparrow. In fact, the American tree sparrow spends little time in trees, and you’re more likely to see them near the ground!

These birds closely resemble the field sparrow and have similar plumage, except for a dark spot in the center of the chest that’s absent in its cousin. They are also substantially larger, have a bicolored bill, and have a different song that’s sweet and pleasant to listen to.

The American Tree Sparrow has one of the most northerly geographical ranges of any sparrow – their nesting grounds extend well into the arctic circle!

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Passerculus sandwichensis
  • Length: 4.3-5.9 in (11-15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.5-1.0 oz (15-28 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9-8.7 in (20-22 cm)

Savannah sparrows are untamed grassland birds that prefer to stay away from human habitation. Although they look rather like song sparrows, they can be identified through a pair of binoculars by the yellow wash around their face.

According to the Sibley Guide To Birds, Savannah sparrows are only resident in southern Missouri during the winter. You’ll only see them in the northern half of the state during their annual migrations on their way to Iowa and other more northerly nesting grounds.

They often form loose flocks during the winter and are one of the most common sparrows you’ll find in open grasslands, either perched on top of dead weed stems or on fences.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Passerella iliaca
  • Length: 5.9-7.5 in (15-19 cm)
  • Weight: 0.9-1.6 oz (26-44 g)
  • Wingspan: 10.5-11.4 in (26.7-29 cm)

Fox sparrows are large, thrush-like sparrows, with broad wingspans and speckled chests. They even whistle and scratch about in undergrowth for food rather like thrushes do!

Although they’re a more common bird further south, you’ll only see small numbers of fox sparrows in Missouri during the winter. In the spring and summer, they fly to Northern Canada and Alaska for breeding.

Fox sparrows are the only species in their genus, meaning they don’t have any close cousins. The subspecies you’ll find here is the classic red-tinted version from which this bird got its name.

Harris’s Sparrow

Harris's Sparrow
  • Zonotrichia querula
  • Length: 6.7-7.9 in (17-20 cm)
  • Weight: 0.9-1.7 oz (26-49 g)
  • Wingspan: 10.6 in (27 cm)

Now we’re moving on to the rarer sparrows of Missouri. Harris’s sparrow is one of the largest of all sparrows in North America and shares many characteristics with its cousin, the white-crowned sparrow.

Its striking black face and throat are the easiest way to identify Harris’s sparrow, which often mixes with flocks of other sparrows. This dark facial plumage is especially pronounced during the breeding season from March to August, but it is prominent during the winter, too.

Missouri is one of only nine states where the rather uncommon Harris’s sparrow spends the winter, and only resides on the west side of the state. In spring and autumn, flocks gather for migration and can then be seen in the rest of the state, too.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Melospiza lincolnii
  • Length: 5.1-5.9 in (13-15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-0.7 oz (17-19 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in (19-22 cm)

You’ll only find Licoln’s sparrow in the southwestern corner of Missouri during the winter. In the rest of the state, they only pass through on their annual migrations routes.

Lincoln’s sparrows might be fairly difficult to recognize by sight but are easily identified by their song which is one of the sweetest of any sparrow species in North America. Listen out for it in Missouri during the late winter and early spring, as they prepare for their flight to their northerly nesting grounds.

A bird with a strong migratory instinct, Lincoln’s sparrow has a long way to fly every season between its winter grounds in the Southern United States and Central America, to its breeding grounds in the Northern US and Canada.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Chondestes grammacus
  • Length: 5.9-6.7 in (15-17 cm)
  • Weight: 0.8-1.2 oz (24-33 g)
  • Wingspan: 11.0 in (28 cm)

Not to be confused with their striking cousin the lark bunting, lark sparrows are most easily recognized by their large size, bright white underside with a dark spot on their chest, and white tips on their tail. Closer inspection also reveals distinct black stripes on their face and tan crown feathers.

These birds prefer to inhabit open grassy areas with scattered trees. They can be seen foraging on grazed livestock farms as well as on golf courses or well-kept lawns! Individuals sometimes join flocks of other small bird species.

Missouri is at the eastern fringe of the lark sparrow’s breeding range, and as such, they are not very common birds here compared to territories further west. During nesting, both males and females collect materials such as grass and small twigs, but only females are permitted to construct the nest!

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Ammodramus savannarum
  • Length: 4.3-4.5 in (10.8-11.5 cm)
  • Weight: 0.5-0.7 oz (14-20 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9 in (20 cm)

Grasshopper sparrows are one of the most widespread members of the Ammodramus clan of sparrows, a group of very small, shy birds that normally inhabit grasslands. It can be told apart from its cousins by the lack of streaks on its breast that are present in other species.

The grasshopper sparrow not only sounds like a grasshopper but also loves feeding on them during the summer when they nest in dry grasslands! Learning this call is one of the best ways to catch a glimpse of this secretive bird – you might need a good pair of binoculars to enjoy observing them!

Summer is the only time of year when you’ll find grasshopper sparrows in Missouri – these warmth-loving birds spend their winters only in the southernmost United States as well as Central America.

Henslow’s Sparrow

Henslow’s Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Centronyx henslowii
  • Length: 4.75 – 5.25 in (12 – 13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.5 oz – (14 g)
  • Wingspan: 6-7 in – (15 – 18 cm)

An even smaller cousin of the grasshopper sparrow, Henslow’s sparrow is one of the smallest of all sparrows in North America. They can be recognized by their short tail and large yellowish head.

You’re only likely to see this uncommon and declining sparrow in the northern and eastern parts of Missouri during the breeding season – they are rare elsewhere and overwinter exclusively in the Southeastern United States.

Since Henslow’s sparrow is so rare and well-camouflaged, it should be considered prized spotting. Even their song is quiet and subtle, sounding more like an insect or mouse than a bird!

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Pooecetes gramineus
  • Length: 5.1-6.3 in (13-16 cm)
  • Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz (20-28 g)
  • Wingspan: 9.4 in (24 cm)

The vesper sparrow is similar in appearance to the savannah sparrow, but they’re slightly larger, with a longer tail, and without the yellow wash on their face. They can often be seen perching in the open on wire fences, and typically fly to treetops when disturbed.

Although they’re more common in the west of the country, vesper sparrows are a fairly rare sighting in Missouri. They can be found everywhere except the southern part of the state in the summer when they nest in short grass prairies.

Vesper sparrows numbers have declined by 37 percent during the last 50 years. This is mostly due to habitat loss in both breeding and wintering grounds. Additionally, modern farming practices, including pesticide use, hedgerow clearing, and early hay harvesting, have been detrimental.

LeConte’s Sparrow

Ammospiza leconteii
  • Scientific Name: Ammospiza leconteii
  • Length: 4.7-5.1 in (12-13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz (12-16.3 g)
  • Wingspan: 6.3-7.1 in (16-18 cm)

A close cousin of the grasshopper sparrow, and Henslow’s sparrow, LeConte’s sparrow is another tiny bird of wild, grassy habitats. It can be told apart from its relatives by its crisp, dark streaks on its flanks and smaller bill.

This species also prefers to inhabit damper grasslands than grasshopper sparrows. Its secretive nature makes it difficult to spot except when it’s singing its insect-like song.

LeConte’s sparrow spends the colder months exclusively in the southeast of the USA, with the south of Missouri representing the northernmost extent of its winter range. In summer, they breed in Canada, as well as a few of the northernmost United States.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted towhee
  • Scientific Name: Pipilo maculatus
  • Length: 6.7-8.3 in (17-21 cm)
  • Weight: 1.2-1.7 oz (33-49 g)
  • Wingspan: 11.0 in (28 cm)

Spotted towhees are one of the hardest sparrows to spot in Missouri for two reasons.

Firstly, they can only be found occasionally here – usually on the western side of Missouri during the winter. Secondly, they look very similar to the native eastern towhee which is far more common here!

The clue in telling the difference between the two is in the name. Spotted towhees have white spots on their brown or black wings, whereas eastern towhees only have a tiny white patch on the wings. Most other features and behavior, however, are very similar.

Since these two species are genetically so alike, they sometimes reproduce together in the few states where they share territory. The resulting offspring exhibit a blend of features from both parents and can be especially puzzling to identify!

Bachman’s Sparrow

Bachman’s Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Peucaea aestivalis
  • Length: 12.4 -15.2 cm (4.9 – 6 in)
  • Weight: 18 – 22 g (0.6 -0.8 oz)
  • Wingspan: 18.4 cm (7.2 in)

The prize for the rarest resident sparrow in Missouri goes to the Bachman’s sparrow! Also known as the ‘pinewood’s sparrow’ or ‘oakwoods sparrow’, this diminutive species only breeds in a tiny territory of southern Missouri.

Bachman’s sparrow has a very confined geographical range, exclusively in the southeastern states, and Missouri is the northernmost point of its breeding range. Although not easy to distinguish by sight, you can identify this tiny sparrow by its song – a clear whistle followed by a short, sharp trill.

These warmth-loving birds build domed nests, usually near the ground, and will sometimes use a gopher’s burrow to hide in! They are considered to be near threatened by the IUCN, with habitat loss thought to be a major cause of their decline.

Very Rare or Passing Sparrows Species in Missouri

As well as resident species, you might also see a cousin of the chipping sparrow – the clay-colored sparrows in Missouri along their annual spring and fall migration routes.

An even rarer event is a sighting of the striking and unmistakable black-throated sparrow, which are very occasionally reported wandering here, away from its native lands in the southwest.

Summary

Whether you’re a Missouri local or simply passing through on a nature-watching trip, the state boasts a wealth of sparrows for you to get to know better.

Some species such as dark-eyed juncos can be rewarding to encourage to your backyard bird feeder, whereas rarer species like the grasshopper sparrow and its cousins might require a special trip to tick off on your bird-watching list!

Remember that sparrows makeup but a few of the hundreds of bird species that can be found in Missouri. To learn more about the best of the rest, don’t miss our stunning guide to 28 iconic birds in the Show Me State.

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