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Sparrow vs Chickadee: How To Tell The Difference

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Sparrow vs Chickadee

Identifying birds can be challenging, especially if you’re not familiar with different species and their characteristics. On top of that, some varieties appear very similar at first glance, so you might need to observe them closely to identify them.

Sparrows and Chickadees are common birds you can find throughout the USA, and due to their small bodies and relatively similar colors, people tend to mix them up frequently.

If you are a bird lover struggling to recognize the species you encounter and have issues with spotting differences between these two bird breeds, check out the rest of our article. We will provide detailed explanations and insight into these species’ differences.

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Visual Differences

Sparrow vs Chickadee side by side

Image Credit: (L) Kurt Bouda, Pixabay | (R) elinorb, Shutterstock

Sparrows are small birds with rounded heads, long, thin tails, and small bills. They commonly have rusty eye patches and rusty caps, while their heads are light gray. Their backs are brown, with black details and white accents, while their bellies are grayish-white and can have a dark smudgy streak.

Chickadees resemble Sparrows due to their small body and rounded head. However, their necks are much shorter, and they have different color patterns. This bird also has a long, thin tail and a short bill. Their bibs and caps are black, while they have white cheeks. Chickadee backs are light gray, wings are gray with white edges and black details, while their tummies are white or off-white.

At a Glance

Sparrow
  • Origin: Asia, North Africa, Europe
  • Size:9–6.7 inches
  • Lifespan: 3 years
  • Domesticated?: Yes
Chickadee
  • Origin: North America
  • Size: 5–6 inches
  • Lifespan: 3–7 years
  • Domesticated?: No

Sparrow Overview

You will frequently encounter Sparrows in northern parts of the US. These little songbirds will likely visit your backyard during winter in search of food. What makes Sparrows unique is that they typically feed and nest on the ground while they breed in shrubby spaces.

They primarily feed on insects, berries, small vertebrates, seeds, and grains, and they’ll commonly collect human items in parks or picnic spots. Sparrows are considered granivorous, although they are technically omnivorous.

american tree sparrow bird perching on a tree branch

Image Credit: Canadian-Nature-Visions, Pixabay

Characteristics & Appearance

Sparrows typically do everything on the ground, and they’ll hop around looking for grass, seeds, and other goodies they can find. During hopping, they softly chirp, and their musical skills are a sign that migration season is near.

They have interesting colors and stand out due to their rusty cap and eyepatch. You’ll easily recognize them by their brownish wings with gray and black markings. Their bellies are light and can have a darker smudge at the center.

Habitat

During winter, you can notice these birds in open fields with dense shrubs, bushy roadsides, near marshes, or on forest edges. They are also frequent backyard visitors since food can be hard to find during cold weather. In summer, you can notice them near northern forests.

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Chickadee Overview

Chickadees are frequent backyard visitors, and they are attracted by peanut and sunflower seeds. It’s one of the first birds many bird lovers recognize as they love interacting with people and investigating their surroundings. These birds are extremely smart, and when the food sources are lower than usual, they will hide food to consume later.

They feed on insects, larvae, spiders, and caterpillars in trees, while they also consume berries and seeds, making them omnivorous. Although they love bird feeders, they don’t stick around at feeders for a long time due to their habit of hiding food.

black-capped chickadee bird perching on tree branch

Image Credit: Veronika_Andrews, Pixabay

Characteristics & Appearance

Chickadees are cute, tiny birds that stand out due to their small necks, black cap and eyepatch, and white cheeks. Their wings are dark with white edging, while their bellies are white. These birds got their name due to their “chick-a-dee-dee” call that helps them express gratitude and chase away predators.

These social birds live in flocks, and they have an excellent memory and easily memorize new feeding locations and food hiding spots. You can easily spot dominance within their flocks, as there are birds that don’t belong to a single flock. Instead, they have multiple groups with different ranks.

Habitat

Chickadees are non-migratory birds, and you can find them throughout the US, from southern Canada to northern California, New Mexico, Missouri, and New Jersey. They love areas with shrubby woodlands and forests and will likely visit parks, residential neighborhoods, and backyards.

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What Are the Differences Between Sparrows & Chickadees?

To make the identification of these two bird species easier for you, we will point out all their differences and similarities in separate categories.

Appearance

Sparrows are typically a bit larger than Chickadees, and their necks are longer. When it comes to their colors, Sparrows have brown, white, gray, and black markings, while Chickadees are primarily black and white, with grayish details. Both species have small bills, although Chickadee bills are commonly black.

White-Crowned Sparrow

Image Credit: karaskye, Pixabay

Habitat

While Chickadees are non-migratory and can be found throughout the US, Sparrows migrate and only spend the winter on the US grounds. As Sparrows commonly don’t fly, they tend to be on the ground and in low shrubby areas, while Chickadees prefer trees and higher branches, so they typically reside in forests and shrubby woodlands.

Diet

There are no significant differences in the diets of these birds as both species are omnivorous. However, Sparrows tend to eat more seeds than Chickadees. Also, while Sparrows consume their food the moment they find it, Chickadees will often hide food to eat later.

Nesting

Once Sparrows reach their breeding grounds, they will form pairs, and it’s said these birds have partners for life. A male will defend the territory and protect a female from other males of the species. As they do everything on the round, their nests are typically low, sometimes higher up but lower than 4 feet from the ground. Females take around 7 days to build open-cup-shaped nests made of moss, grasses, and twigs.

Chickadees typically pair up in fall, and the pairs remain together throughout winter in their flocks. Once the flocks break apart, both birds will defend the nesting site. The males tend to care for females, bringing them food and protecting them from predators. Their nests are typically in wood cavities, and they also like to nest in nesting boxes as long as they are 5 to 20 feet above the ground.  Females are in charge of building the nest, and they do it by collecting animal hair, moss, and other soft materials.

chestnut-backed chickadee bird perching on a tree branch

Image Credit: Veronika_Andrews, Pixabay

Eggs

Sparrows commonly lay four to six eggs, either blue or pale greenish. Their incubation lasts between 11 and 13 days, and females are the only ones in charge of incubation.

Chickadees commonly lay six to eight eggs, sometimes more or less. They are either reddish-brown or white with brownish spots, and their incubation lasts from 12 to 13 days while the female is the only incubator. When leaving the nest, the female will cover the eggs with nesting material for protection.

Young

Sparrow younglings leave the nest after 8 to 10 days, and their parents encourage them to leave the nest by offering food. They can fly 14 to 15 days after hatching, but their parents keep feeding them for 2 more weeks until they are strong on their own.

Chickadee younglings leave their nest after 16 days of being hatched. In the beginning, the female mostly remains with them while the male brings food. However, that changes at one point, so both parents collect food for their babies.

Conclusion

Both Sparrows and Chickadees are stunning little birds you can attract to your backyard. They are omnivorous and have interesting color patterns. However, as Sparrows migrate, while Chickadees don’t, you’re likely going to notice Chickadees much more.


Featured Image Credit: (L) Susanne Jutzeler, Schweiz, Pixabay | (R) Jack Bulmer, Pixabay

About the Author Visnja Radosavljevic

Visnja is a creative, adaptable content writer that covers various topics such as DIY, pets, home improvement, travel, gardening, and more. As a young mom and a college student, she didn’t have enough time to balance her personal and work life, so after multiple years of working a regular 9 to 5 job, she decided to pursue her passion and make a living out of it. She has been writing for a couple of years now, helping people to find valuable and interesting information online.

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