sparrows in south carolina

21 Sparrows in South Carolina for You to Spot in the Wild

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South Carolina and the Southeastern United States are a melting pot of sparrow species, many of which come here during the winter to escape the cold weather further north.

The mild coastal plains to the east of South Carolina are especially popular with overwintering birds and those species which enjoy foraging near the coast. At this time of year, one of the best ways to observe sparrows is by attracting them to your garden with a backyard bird feeder.

The cooler climates of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the West provide a useful breeding habitat for several species, in the summer too. So whatever time of the year you’re in South Carolina, there are plenty of sparrows to see.

Here, we’ll run you through the various sparrow species, starting with the most common and finishing off with the rarest, most highly-prized sparrows to see in the Palmetto State.

Top Sparrows in South Carolina, Starting With the Most Common

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee
  • Species 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)

Like in many other states in the Southeastern USA, the eastern towhee is the most common type of sparrow to be found in South Carolina.

This may come as a surprise if you didn’t realize that towhees were a type of sparrow at all! The name ‘towhee’ came from the towhee’s call ‘tow-heee!’, and was then applied to other members of its clan.

Not only are eastern towhees the most common sparrow in South Carolina, but they’re also the most colorful! They’re easy to recognize with their white belly, rufous flanks, black upper body, and ruby-red eyes.

You’ll see these large sparrows year-round right across the state, often scurrying and scratching about under bushes in search of insects, nuts, and seeds.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow
  • Species Name: Spizella passerina
  • Length: 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.5 oz (11-16 g)
  • Wingspan: 8.3 in (21 cm)

The charming chipping sparrow is the second most commonly seen sparrow in South Carolina. You can find these widespread birds year-round in South Carolina, except for coastal regions where they’re only to be seen in winter.

At only five and a half inches long, chipping sparrows are very small sparrows that often gather together in small flocks with other sparrow species. They can be recognized by their rusty crown and black eye line.

Since they can be confused with other sparrows by sight, it’s a good idea to learn their long, mechanical trill after which they were named.

White-throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow
  • Species 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)

With their black and white or black and tan crowns, white throats, and yellow eyebrows, white-throated sparrows are one of the easier sparrow species to recognize.

You’ll only find them in South Carolina during the winter when they’ll often join flocks with their relatives, the white-crowned sparrow. You can attract them to your backyard feeder by offering them sunflower seeds, millet, and other tasty snacks.

These fairly large sparrows have a distinctive mournful whistle that can be remembered by the mnemonic ‘Oh-Sweet-Can-a-daaa!’. This also helps us to remember where the majority of these birds migrate to breed.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow
  • Species 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)

Song sparrows may be the most common sparrow in the USA, but they have to settle for fourth place in South Carolina. They mainly use the state as an overwintering ground, but some pairs will also breed in the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.

Because song sparrows can easily be confused with other brown-streaked species like Lincoln’s sparrow, it’s a good idea to learn their song. These medium-sized sparrows are among the most vocal songbirds and will even sing during the winter!

Interestingly, song sparrows change their tune according to their environment. In 2006, scientists discovered that song sparrows in the city sing a different song to those in the countryside!

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed junco
  • Species 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)

The type of dark-eyed junco you’ll see out this far east will almost certainly be the aptly named ‘slate colored’ variety, although occasionally sightings of Oregon dark-eyed juncos have been reported here, too.

Except for a small population that breeds in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the western edge of the state, dark-eyed juncos are purely winter birds in South Carolina.

These largish sparrows are some of the most enthusiastic visitors to backyard bird feeders, and will even feed on peanuts.

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)

The house sparrow might be the most widespread sparrow in the USA, but they’re also the only species on our list that isn’t native! They were introduced to New York City in 1852 from Europe and quickly spread to all 50 states.

Since they’re not related to native New World sparrows, house sparrows behave quite differently. They don’t migrate and tend to stick to the same territories year-round. Perhaps due to the subtropical climate, house sparrows are rarer in South Carolina than they are in most other states.

Because they can dominate the nesting grounds of native birds, some ornithologists consider house sparrows to be an invasive pest. They are, however, one of the tamest sparrows, and can even be trained to eat from your hand!

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)

As their name suggests, swamp sparrows like spending their time around wetland habitats such as marshes and edges of ponds and lakes. They can also occasionally be attracted to backyards by offering them a bird bath.

In winter, however, swamp sparrows are occasionally also found in drier, weedy fields. It’s at this time of the year that you’ll find them in South Carolina, taking refuge from the colder winters further north.

These tiny, secretive birds are difficult to spot and identify, but their laugh-like, high pitch song is a good way to locate and recognize them.

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)

One of the most widespread of all sparrow species, there’s hardly a corner of North America where you can’t find the savannah sparrow. There’s not a huge population in South Carolina, however, and you’ll only see them here during the colder months.

To spot them, you’ll need to go out to open grasslands, marshes, or even dunes. Look out for them on the ground, or perched on top of weeds and fences.

Savannah sparrows may look similar to song sparrows from a distance, but closer observation through a pair of binoculars reveals the light yellow feathers around their eyes that are their tell-tale field mark.

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Spizella pusilla
  • Length: 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz (11-15 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9 in (20 cm)

Field sparrows are small, long-tailed sparrows that can be either mainly gray or rusty red in color. They’re still a fairly common, but declining bird of weedy fields with scattered bushes and trees.

You can find field sparrows in their favorite habitats throughout the year right across South Carolina. They build their nests on the ground out of clumps of grass in summer and can be attracted to backyard feeders in winter.

A great way to locate and identify this little bird is its singular song that sounds a bit like a bouncing ball coming to a stop!

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)

Now we’re moving into the rarer sparrows of South Carolina. Fox sparrows are only seen by 1 in every 100 bird watchers’ reports during the winter.

Fox sparrows are one of the largest sparrow species and have no close relatives within the family. The subspecies that you’ll find in South Carolina is the golden-billed, foxy-tinted ‘taiga’ type, from which the species got its name.

Fox sparrows are purely winter birds in South Carolina and can be found right across the state during the colder months. You’ll often see them scratching about in the undergrowth looking for insects, seeds, and other tasty morsels, much like towhees do.

In the spring, they return to their northerly nesting grounds which extend into the arctic circle!

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Ammodramus savannarum
  • Length: 4.3- 5 in (10.8-11.5 cm)
  • Weight: 0.5-0.7 oz (14-20 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9 in (20 cm)

Grasshopper sparrows probably earned their name from their simple song which sounds remarkably like a singing insect, but they also love to eat grasshoppers in the dry grasslands that they inhabit!

You’ll find this declining species of sparrow only during winter in most of South Carolina, and only in summer in the high mountains in the west. In the thin band of foothills in between, however, you can find them all year round.

Habitat loss and pesticides are thought to be the chief culprits for the grasshopper sparrow’s demise – a bird that has tragically declined by 70% during the last 50 years.

Seaside Sparrow

Ammospiza maritima
  • Scientific Name: Ammospiza maritimus
  • Length: 5.1-5.9 in (13-15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz (19-29 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.1-7.9 in (18-20 cm)

A cousin of the grasshopper sparrow is the seaside sparrow. Unlike its relatives, however, the seaside sparrow can only be found in coastal districts in the Eastern United States.

Seaside sparrows have fairly distinctive features. Their yellow eyebrows set them apart from their closest relatives and they also have a very-long bill for their size that they use to dig in tidal mud.

These secretive birds can be found year-round in South Carolina, especially among tall vegetation in salt marsh habitats. Your best chance to see them may be during low tide when they’ll try their luck at plucking invertebrates from the mud!

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)

Bachman’s sparrow is a mysterious sparrow that can only be found in the far southeast of the USA. They’re secretive, solitary birds that neither form their own flocks nor join those of other sparrows.

It’s only in the milder, eastern half of South Carolina that you’ll find this warmth-loving sparrow. Bachman’s sparrow doesn’t migrate much, so can be seen here throughout the year.

The whitish belly and long, slightly hooked bill are the primary field marks on Bachman’s sparrow which is otherwise very difficult to spot and recognize!

A good way to locate and distinguish them can be to listen out for their song – a tuneful whistle, followed by a gurgling trill.

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.

South Carolina is purely a wintering ground for these hardy birds which spend the summer in the far north of Canada, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains. Although they are more frequently seen in more northerly and westerly states, they’re not a very common bird in the southeastern states.

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

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 and habit to the savannah sparrow, but it’s slightly larger and doesn’t have the yellow wash on its face.

Although they’re a common bird in the west of the country, vesper sparrows are seldom seen this far east. You’ll only find them here during the winter when they form loose flocks on farmland and sparsely vegetated grasslands.

Like savannah sparrows, you’ll often see them perched atop a fence, or perhaps in a tree overlooking a field.

Saltmarsh Sparrow

Saltmarsh Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Ammospiza caudacuta
  • Length: 4.7-5.1 in (12-13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-0.8 oz (17.1-24.1 g)
  • Wingspan: 6.5-7.7 in (16.5-19.5 cm)

Like their cousins the seaside sparrow, the salt marsh sparrow is a resident only on the east coast of the United States, from Maine to Florida. Unlike their relatives, however, you’ll only see them during the winter in South Carolina.

The salt marsh sparrow is also substantially smaller than the seaside sparrow, with a more orangey plumage than its kin. They may sometimes be spotted in the same coastal marshes where they use their long bill to search out insects and crustaceans.

Nelson’s Sparrow

Nelson's Sparrow
  • Scientific Name: Ammospiza nelsoni
  • Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-0.7 oz (17-21 g)
  • Wingspan: 6.5-7.9 in (16.5-20 cm)

Nelson’s sparrows are so similar to the saltmarsh sparrows that they were thought to be the same species until 1989.

It turns out that, unlike their coastal-dwelling relatives, Nelson’s sparrow sometimes migrates huge distances to breed inland, including the freshwater marshes of the midwest!

Like their cousins, the saltmarsh sparrow, they rely mainly on insect species and crustaceans as their primary source of food. Protecting the remaining marshlands may prove critical to their long-term survival.

Nelson’s sparrows are rare birds in South Carolina, only to be seen during the winter. They sometimes sing at night with a curious, hiss-like call.

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)

Now, for the sweetest singer of them all! While Lincoln’s sparrow has a modest plumage that resembles a song sparrow’s, their distinctive song must be one of the most soothing of any songbird in North America.

They become especially vocal as they prepare for the breeding season, and this is one of the seasons that you’re most likely to see Lincoln’s sparrow in South Carolina.

Although small numbers of these birds congregate near the coast of the state during the winter, it’s during the spring and autumn migrations that you’re most likely to see larger numbers of them.

Because large numbers of Lincoln’s sparrows overwinter in Central America and breed in Canada, much of the US is merely a transit zone for these highly nomadic birds.

LeConte’s Sparrow

Ammospiza leconteii
  • Species 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, LeConte’s sparrow is slightly smaller, with a more orange color and a narrower, smaller bill.

They also prefer wetter habitats to grasshopper sparrows and can occasionally be seen among damp meadows and shallow marshes in the mild east of South Carolina during the winter.

Like the other grassland birds in their genus, their survival relies on the preservation of their native habitats.

Henslow’s Sparrow

Henslow's Sparrow
  • Species Name: Centronyx henslowii
  • Length: 4.75 – 5.25 in (12–13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.5 oz (14 g)
  • Wingspan: 7 – 7.5 in (18 – 19 cm)

As a close relative, Henslow’s sparrow is similar to Leconte’s sparrow in many ways. These rare birds have similar markings to their cousins and are also very rare residents in the east of South Carolina during the winter.

They also tend to enjoy similar damp grasslands, but Henslow’s sparrow has a more olive-green tint compared to Leconte’s sparrow, as well as a much heavier bill.

If you spot either of these two hard-to-spot species in South Carolina, try to get a photo and send it to a local birding authority like Audubon South Carolina.

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)

Lark sparrows might just be the rarest resident sparrow in South Carolina, and they are also a unique and distinctive species.

Although they’re a fairly common species of sparrow further west, lark sparrows are incredibly rare birds in the eastern states. Interestingly, the sandhills on the border between the Carolinas provide one of the only outposts in the east where they breed.

These huge sparrows have a broad wingspan, a bright white underside with a dark spot on their chest, and white tips on their tails. Closer inspection also reveals distinct black stripes on their face and tan crown feathers.

During the winter, a few lark sparrows may also remain along the Carolina coastal plains, although the majority of them overwinter in Texas, California, and Mexico.


Whether you’re enjoying watching an eastern towhee scratching about in your backyard, or you’re hunting down a prized picture of Henslow’s sparrow in a damp meadow, you can have lots of fun getting to know sparrows in South Carolina!

Apart from sparrows, I bet there are still plenty of birds in South Carolina that you haven’t seen yet. Have you caught a glimpse of the beautiful Lazuli Bunting or the exotic Green Breasted Mango?

They’re just two of the colorful species that we’ve included in our guide to 25 beautiful birds of the Palmetto State.

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