6 Species of Black and White Sparrows

Sparrows are often described as ‘little brown jobs’ by birders, but not all sparrows are brown, and in fact, there are several species that are black and white.

If you don’t spot the black and white sparrow you are looking for in this list, then the bird may not be a sparrow but don’t despair as I have you covered. This article on black and white birds in North America will help you identify that bird with ease.

1. Dark-eyed Junco

Dark eyed junco for identification

Dark-eyed Juncos are sparrows that are different a color depending on the state. They are generally slate-colored in the east and black, white, and brown in the west.

  • 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)

Dark-eyed Juncos remain resident all year in the northeastern and western US states and the Appalachian Mountains. Those that breed in Canada and Alaska migrate south in winter to the United States.

You can find Dark-eyed Junco in open and partially wooded areas, often on the ground, and they are common across the continent. They mainly feed on seeds but will also eat some insects.

Dark-eyed Junco Song: A simple song of a series of fast, high-pitched even notes.

Credit: Bobby Wilcox, XC667170. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/667170.

Nests of Dark-eyed Juncos are usually on the ground, hidden in vegetation, woven from plant material, and lined with grass and hair. They lay up to six eggs, which take around two weeks to hatch and two weeks to fledge.

Attract Dark-eyed Juncos to backyard feeders with a variety of seeds such as black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, millet, and peanuts. Platform feeders or seeds scattered on the ground are best.

Fun fact: Dark-eyed Juncos are known as snowbirds as they arrive in the United States in winter.

2. White-crowned Sparrow

white-crowned sparrow

White-crowned Sparrows are large grayish sparrows with long tails, small bills, and bold black and white stripes on their heads.

  • 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)

White-crowned Sparrows breed in Alaska and arctic Canada before heading south to the lower 48 and Mexico for winter. However, some may remain along the Pacific Coast and the mountainous west all year.

You can find White-crowned Sparrows in weedy fields, along roadsides, forest edges,  and in yards foraging for seeds of weeds and grasses or fruit such as elderberries and blackberries.

White-crowned Sparrow Song: The males’ song is a clear whistle, followed by a series of chaotic whistles and finishing with a buzz. Calls are usually short and sharp. Females rarely call or sing.

Credit: Richard E. Webster, XC678159. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/678159.

Nests of White-crowned Sparrows are made from twigs, grass, moss, and pine needles, often low to the ground in shrubs or on the ground in the tundra. They lay up to seven eggs, which take up to two weeks to hatch and around nine days for the chicks to fledge.

Attract White-crowned Sparrows to your backyard with sunflower seeds, and they will also eat seeds dropped by other birds at the feeders.

Fun fact: Young White-crowned Sparrows take a further week or two to learn to fly after leaving the nest.

3. Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrows are one of the most easily recognized sparrows with their distinctive black throat and two bright white stripes on each side of their gray heads. The rest of them is pale underneath and grayish-brown on the back.

  • Amphispiza bilineata
  • Length: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.5 oz (11-15 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.7 in (19.5 cm)

Black-throated Sparrows are sparrows of southwestern US states. Those that breed further north in their range migrate, but those in the south and Mexico remain all year.

You can find Black-throated Sparrows on the ground in open areas in canyons and desert scrub. They eat insects in summer and fallen seeds in winter.

Black-throated Sparrow Song: The males’ song is a mix of some low notes, followed by a buzz and then a trill. The song is quite distinctive once you hear it a few times.

Credit: Richard E. Webster, XC677434. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/677434.

Nests of Black-throated Sparrows are low down in shrubs and made from desert plant material made into a cup shape and lined with soft grass and animal hair.

They lay up to five eggs, which take up to two weeks to hatch and a further ten days for the young to leave the nest.

Attract Black-throated Sparrows to your backyard with black oil sunflower seeds.

Fun fact: Black-throated Sparrows do not drink water during the hot desert summer and instead get all their moisture from the insects they eat.

4. Clay-colored Sparrow

These small, plain birds of the northern prairies and Great Plains have distinctive head markings which set them apart from other sparrows. They have a gray collar around their necks and long notched tails.

  • Spizella pallida
  • Length: 5.1 – 6 in (13 – 15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.42 oz (12 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.5 in (19 cm)

Clay-colored Sparrows are the most common sparrow you can spot in summer in the northern prairies. They breed in Canada and the northern Great Plains before migrating south to Texas and Mexico.

In summer, you can find Clay-colored Sparrows in shrubland, looking for seeds, leaf buds, or the occasional insect.

Clay-colored Sparrow Song: Their song is a two-note buzzing sound.

Credit: Richard E. Webster, XC186813. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/186813.

Nests of Clay-colored Sparrows are usually close to the ground and well hidden in vegetation. The female makes them from twigs and grass, and they are lined with softer grasses and animal hair.

They lay up to five eggs which take around two weeks to hatch and a further week for the young to leave the nest.

Fun fact: Young Clay-colored Sparrows leave the nest before they can fly, and they have to run for cover when there is danger.

5. Lark Bunting

lark bunting

Male Lark Buntings are one of the easiest of the sparrow family to recognize. Males are black with a white wing patch. However, females and non-breeding males are brown-streaked in color, but they also have white in their wings.

  • Calamospiza melanocorys
  • Length: 5.5-7.1 in (14-18 cm)
  • Weight: 1.3-1.5 oz (35.3-41.3 g)
  • Wingspan: 9.8-11.0 in (25-28 cm)

Lark Buntings breed in central states and southern Canada and migrate to the southern Great Plains and northern Mexico for winter. However, some birds remain all year in southern US states.

You can find Lark Bunting on the ground in open grasslands and prairie with sagebrush. They eat seeds, insects, and some fruit.

Lark Bunting Call/Song:

Credit: Richard E. Webster, XC185137. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/185137.

The nests of Lark Bunting are built by both males and females and are made from grass and leaves lined with soft grass and animal hair. They lay up to five eggs that take around eleven days to hatch and a further week for the young to leave the nest.

Fun fact: Male Lark Buntings sing while flying back down from height in the breeding season.

6. Bell’s Sparrow

Bells Sparrow
Credit: ALAN SCHMIERER

Bell’s Sparrows are medium-sized sparrows that have a gray head with a white patch in front of the bill. They also have a black outline on their bill, a white eye ring, a black vertical stripe down their throat, a gray back, and a white chest and belly.

Their long, pointy tails are often held upright. Males and Females look the same while Juveniles are brown all over. 

  • Artemisiospiza belli
  • Length: 6.25 in (16 cm)
  • Weight: 0.7 oz (20 g)
  • Wingspan: 8.25 in (21 cm)

Bell’s Sparrows live in southwestern US states and northwestern Mexico all year.

You can find Bell’s Sparrows in sagebrush habitats which is why they are often misidentified as Sagebrush Sparrows. They are residents of coastal shrubby areas, saltbush, and open, dry habitats. 

Bell’s Sparrows usually forage on the ground. They have a habit of scurrying under shrubs for protection. They feed on seeds from shrubs and grasses. They also eat many kinds of insects, such as grasshoppers and beetles.  

Bell’s Sparrow Song:

Credit: Paul Marvin, XC146167. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/146167.

Nests of Bell’s Sparrows can be found low to the ground. They are a loose cup of sagebrush, twigs, grass, and bark lined with feathers and fur. The female lays around five eggs that she takes care of for about sixteen days until they hatch.  Males defend their territory by singing from a dry perch. 

Fun Fact: In 2014, Bell’s Sparrow was proven as a separate species from the Sage Sparrow after 115 years of debate. DNA results from these two birds finally ended the discussion.