9 Species of Sparrows in Alaska (ID and Sound Guide)

chipping sparrow

This guide will help you identify nine species of sparrows by sight and sound you can spot in Alaska. Also, find out what time of year to spot them and some fun facts.

It is worth taking the time to get to know these energetic little songbirds that you will frequently spot and hear as they are fun to watch. Juncos and Towhees are also sparrows, so they are included in this guide.

Sparrows are often described as ‘little brown jobs’ by birders so it is obvious that it can be a challenge for even an experienced birder to recognize them.

Many sparrows have distinctive head markings and often migrate, so you can discount them at certain times of the year. These two pieces of information help with identification and are included in this guide.

Sparrows mainly eat seeds and insects, and they will often come to backyard feeders. Find out the other species of birds that regularly visit Alaska and print a free ID chart.

This guide will help you identify the types of sparrows classed as regularly occurring in Alaska according to avibase and uses data collected from bird watchers on ebird to give real information about when these birds can be spotted.

When to Spot Sparrows in Alaska

Knowing when you are most likely to spot sparrows can help reduce the guesswork with these similar-looking birds. This guide sorts these birds by when you are most likely to spot them.

Sparrows in Alabama in summer:

  • Savannah Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow

Sparrows in Alaska all year:

  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Song Sparrow

Identifying Sparrow’s Songs

If you learn a few of the songs of sparrows by listening to the audio recordings in the guide, it will help, especially with some of the more distinctive sparrow songs.

White-throated Sparrows sing long slow notes that change pitch and sound like a person whistling. However, Golden-crowned Sparrows sing a few slow notes that decrease in pitch.

Sparrows in Alaska All Year

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark eyed junco for identification

Dark-eyed Juncos are the most frequently spotted sparrows in Alaska. They can be seen in the state all year and appear in 24% of summer checklists and 21% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.

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 sounds: 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.

Song Sparrow

Song sparrow for identification

Song Sparrows can be spotted all year in Alaska, and they are mainly seen in the south of the state, along the coast. They appear in 9% of summer checklists and 11% of winter checklists.

Song sparrows are not as remarkable looking as other backyard birds, but these predominantly brown-streaked birds use their almost constant song to attract mates in spring and summer.

  • 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 Sparrow live all year in the northern US States. Those that breed in Canada migrate to southern US states for winter.

You can find Song Sparrows in open, shrubby, and wet areas, often perched on a low shrub singing. They are often found at backyard feeders.

Song Sparrows eat a wide variety of insects and plants, including beetles, caterpillars, midges, spiders, and earthworms. They will also eat buckwheat, sunflower seeds, raspberries, wild cherries, blackberries, wheat, and rice.

Song Sparrow sounds: They make a series of unconnected buzzing, trills, and notes rather than a melodious song. They also make sharp alarm calls and chatter calls when in groups.

Credit: Christopher McPherson, XC692182. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/692182.

Nests of Song Sparrows are made from grass and other plant material woven together and lined with soft grass and hair. They lay up to six eggs, which take around two weeks to hatch and just under two weeks for the young to leave the nest.

Attract Song Sparrows to your backyard by putting black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and nyjer on platform feeders.

Fun fact: A study has found that Song Sparrows mix their playlist of songs, so they do not repeat and potentially bore prospective females!

Sparrows in Alaska in Summer

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrows spend the breeding season in Alaska and appear in up to 22% of summer checklists. They are more commonly seen from April to November, but a few stay all year.

If you get close enough to a Savannah Sparrow, you will see this brown bird has a distinctive yellow patch by the eye. They also have short tails and a streaky brown coloring.

  • 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 breed in Canada and the US before migrating to southern US states and Mexico for winter.

You can find Savannah Sparrows on the ground in open areas, such as grassland, foraging for insects and spiders in the breeding season, and seeds in the winter.

Savannah Sparrow sounds: An almost rushed sounding song which is a few fast notes followed by a buzzing trill.

Credit: Richard E. Webster, XC659859. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/659859.

Nests of Savannah Sparrows are on or near the ground and made from grass. They lay up to six eggs, which take around two weeks to hatch and a further one or two weeks for the young to fledge.

These birds do not regularly visit feeders, but they may visit your yard if you keep brush piles, have long grass, and live near fields.

Fun fact: Although they are one of the most common songbirds in North America, they are considered a threatened species by the ICUN.

White-crowned Sparrow

white-crowned sparrow

White-crowned Sparrows are the third most frequently spotted sparrows in Alaska. They are more commonly seen here during the breeding season from May to August, and although most migrate south for the winter, some remain in the state all year.

They are recorded in up to 22% of summer checklists and 3% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.

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 sounds: 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.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrows spend the breeding season in Alaska and appear in 13% of summer checklists. They are most common from April to September, but some can still be spotted all year near Anchorage and occur in 2% of winter checklists.

Although some species are more gray or dark brown, the Fox Sparrow is aptly named after its fox-red coloring. Its reddish streaks are particularly obvious in its chest area. It is a chunky bird compared to other sparrows.

There are four different color and appearance variations in Fox Sparrows. Red Fox Sparrows are found in eastern areas, and darker ‘sooty’ Fox Sparrows are found along the Pacific Coast. Thick-billed Fox Sparrows are found in California, and Slate-colored Fox Sparrows are found in western US states.

  • 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 migrate and breed in the north and west of Canada, Alaska, and down as far as California in the western US.

They spend the winter in southeastern US states and along the Pacific coast. Some remain all year on Canada’s Pacific coast, and they can be seen during migration in central and northeastern US states.

You can find Fox Sparrows in wooded areas, undergrowth, and brush. In the winter, they migrate to similar areas, even in well-vegetated suburbs and parks. You may observe them kicking up leaf litter in the air in search of food on the ground. 

Insects and seeds are a common diet of Fox Sparrows. At times, they may also eat berries and grasses and crustaceans and marine animals if they’re near the beach. 

Fox Sparrow sounds: Males sing a pleasant series of whistles and buzzy notes.

Credit: Martin St-Michel, XC467711. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/467711.

Nests of Fox Sparrow are hidden under dense, low shrubs. They may also build them in low trees but not more than eight feet above the ground. The nest is covered with grass, weeds, and moss but lined with dry grass. For those above ground, twigs are used to toughen up the nest’s walls.

They lay two to five eggs, which take about two weeks to hatch. The young may leave the nest within eleven days of hatching. 

Attract Fox Sparrows to your backyard with small seeds and berries and low native shrubs.

Fun fact: The female Fox Sparrow can build a nest in a flash. They can start a nest at sunrise and finish it by dusk!

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrows spend the breeding season in Alaska and appear in up to 15% of summer checklists. They are more frequently spotted from May to September, but a few remain all year near Anchorage and occur in 1% of winter checklists.

Lincoln’s Sparrows are medium-sized sparrows, mainly gray in color and with streaks of brown across their wings and chest and white bellies. Their heads may look pointed when they raise their crown feathers. Its eyering is buffy and with a gray eyebrow area and dark eye line.

  • 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)

Lincoln’s Sparrows breed in Canada and parts of western US states and migrate to southern US states, the Pacific Coast, and Mexico for winter. They can be seen during migration in the rest of the US.

You can find Lincoln’s Sparrow mostly in densely-covered shrubs and thickets, particularly near streams and wet or damp areas. They migrate to tropical but humid forests during the winter. 

Lincoln’s Sparrows mostly eat weeds and grasses during the winter. During the breeding season, they will eat insects like spiders, ants, and caterpillars, but they still feed plants to their young. 

Lincoln’s Sparrow sounds: Their song is a fast trill of notes and some buzzes that is one of the most tuneful of all the sparrows.

Credit: Richard E. Webster, XC574895. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/574895.

Nest of Lincoln’s Sparrows are built by females on the ground, protected and screened by thick shrubs. The nests are lined with moss or grass, and they lay around four eggs.

The eggs take up to two weeks to hatch, and the young leave the nest in under two weeks after hatching. Their flying skills improve fast, and by the 6th day, they can fly more than ten meters.

Fun fact: Lincoln’s Sparrows are very secretive birds and are not often seen but can be recognized by their sweet song.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Although some can be spotted all year, Golden-crowned Sparrows are more commonly spotted during the breeding season in Alaska, from May to September. They are recorded in 8% of summer checklists and 2% of winter checklists.

Golden-crowned Sparrows are grayish-brown underneath and streaked brown on the back. Their heads have a black crown and a bright-yellow forehead.

The colors are duller and brown on the crown in winter, and the yellow forehead is also duller.

  • Zonotrichia atricapilla
  • Length: 5.9-7.1 in (15-18 cm)
  • Weight: 1.1-1.2 oz (30-33 g)

Golden-crowned Sparrows breed in Alaska and western Canada before migrating to the West Coast for winter. 

You can find Golden-crowned Sparrow in weedy fields scratching for seeds such as dock, sumac, and geranium. They also eat fruit such as apples, grapes, elderberry, and olives. Insects also make up some of their diets, such as ants, beetles, butterflies, and termites.

Golden-crowned Sparrows sounds: Their song is a sad, slow series of whistles that decrease in pitch.

Credit: Steve Hampton, XC680976. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/680976.

Nests of Golden-crowned Sparrows are usually on the ground and made from twigs, moss, and leaves. They are lined with softer material, such as animal hair, grass, and feathers.

They lay around four eggs, which take just under two weeks to hatch and a further ten days for the young to fledge.

Attract Golden-crowned Sparrows to your backyard with seeds on ground feeders or plant native plants that fruit.

Fun fact: The gold crown of Golden-crowned Sparrows shows how dominant they are, with larger crowns showing more dominance. This helps to reduce fights amongst males.

American Tree Sparrow

American tree sparrow

American Tree Sparrows spend the breeding season in Alaska and appear in 4% of summer checklists. Most migrate south for winter, but a few hang around all year and are recorded in 2% of winter checklists.

American Tree sparrows are long-tailed brown-streaked plump birds with rusty caps, gray faces, and a rusty eye line. 

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

American Tree Sparrows are a bird of winter in the US and a bird of summer in Canada.

They breed in the far north of Canada and in Alaska and migrate to most US states for the winter, except the Pacific and Gulf Coasts.

You can find American Tree Sparrows foraging in small flocks in weedy fields and under bird feeders.

American Tree Sparrows sounds: Males sing a pleasant song from late winter, before migration. Their song is a tuneful series of rising and falling whistles.

Credit: Peter Boesman, XC323018. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/323018.

Nests of American Tree Sparrows’ are usually on or near to the ground and are made of twigs, grass, and moss. They lay around five eggs, and these take just under two weeks to hatch and just over a week for the young to fledge.

Attract American Tree Sparrows to your backyard platform feeders with black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, and millet. They also feed seeds dropped on the ground from tube feeders.

Fun fact: American Tree Sparrows do not spend much time in trees but forage and nest on the ground. Their name comes from European settlers that thought they looked similar to the European Tree Sparrow.

Chipping Sparrow

chipping sparrow

Chipping Sparrows are rarely spotted in Alaska but they are recognized as regularly occurring in the east of the state during summer.

Chipping Sparrows are slender, long-tailed birds with a grayish belly and brown and black-streaked back, with a rusty crown and black eye line. In winter, the colors are more subdued.

  • 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 spend their summer breeding in the US and Canada before flying to Mexico and Florida for winter. Some remain all year in the southern US states.

You can find Chipping Sparrows in small flocks on the ground, often in woods and parks with trees.

Chipping Sparrow sounds: They get their name from the sharp ‘chip’ call they make. Their distinctive song is a stuttering trill.

Credit: Richard E. Webster, XC611297. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/611297.

Nests of Chipping Sparrows are off the ground, hidden in trees or shrubs, and are built by females. The nests are made from dried grass and small roots, but they are very basic and not very dense.

Chipping Sparrows lay up to seven eggs and up to three broods a year. The eggs take around two weeks to hatch, and the young fledge in under two weeks.

Attract Chipping Sparrows to your backyard with seeds or cracked corn on open feeders such as hoppers or platforms.

Fun fact: A group of Chipping Sparrows is known as a tournament.

How to Attract Sparrows to Your Backyard

Sparrows are easy to attract to your yard with these easy to follow tips.

  1. Provide their favourite seeds which include sunflower seeds nyjer, millet and cracked corn.
  2. Plant native plants and shrubs to attract insects
  3. Provide a water feature with clean running water
  4. Don’t put feeders near sheltered areas where cats may pounce.

Most Commonly Spotted Sparrows in Alaska:

Bird watchers submit checklists on ebird, and this shows how frequently all the sparrows in Alaska are spotted:

  1. Dark-eyed Junco 23.2%
  2. Savannah Sparrow 12.8%
  3. White-crowned Sparrow 11.9%
  4. Song Sparrow 11.2%
  5. Fox Sparrow 9.5%
  6. Lincoln’s Sparrow 7.4%
  7. Golden-crowned Sparrow 6.5%
  8. American Tree Sparrow 3.4%
  9. Chipping Sparrow 0.3%