23 Sparrows in Iowa (With Pictures)

23 Sparrows in Iowa (With Pictures)

Sparrows may not command the sky like eagles or sing as sweetly as nightingales, but in Iowa, these humble birds are still worthy of a visit. Through my kitchen window, I’ve come to know these hardy little birds, though it’s their Scandinavian cousins, — frequent visitors that flit and forage in the backyard.

Iowa’s fields and gardens are alive with their bustling energy and melodic chirps, each species adding its own unique stitch to the state’s ecological quilt. Join us in exploring the diverse world of Iowa’s sparrows, from the ubiquitous house sparrow to the elusive grasshopper sparrow. Let’s discover the understated beauty and fascinating behaviours of these avian neighbours.

1. Song Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Melospiza melodia
  • Life span: 2-7 years
  • Size: 5.5-7 in / 14-18 cm
  • Weight: 0.8-1.4 oz / 22-40 g
  • Wingspan: 9.1-9.8 in / 23-25 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

A bird often seen in gardens and marshes, the Song Sparrow’s mottled brown pattern blends it seamlessly into its surroundings. It is distinguished by a rounded head and a streaky brown back, with a classic speckled breast that makes it instantly recognizable.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrows are versatile nesters, using a variety of locations from shrubs to on the ground, often hidden in dense vegetation. Their nests are robust and well-constructed, providing safety and warmth for their young.

This sparrow’s diet is one of the most varied among its kin, including insects, seeds, and occasionally small fruits. Their opportunistic feeding behaviour helps them thrive in a wide range of environments, from urban areas to remote islands.

Song Sparrows are generally abundant, but local populations can be affected by habitat loss and pollution. Conservation efforts focus on maintaining clean waterways and preserving natural habitats to ensure healthy populations.

2. House Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Passer domesticus
  • Life span: 3-5 years
  • Size: 5.5-6.3 in / 14-16 cm
  • Weight: 1.1-1.4 oz / 30-40 g
  • Wingspan: 7.9-9.1 in / 20-23 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

Ubiquitous in urban and suburban areas worldwide, the House Sparrow is not native to North America but has become one of the continent’s most familiar bird species since its introduction in the mid-1800s. It features a robust, chunky body with a gray head, white cheeks, a black bib, and rufous flanks.

The House Sparrow’s adaptability to human-modified landscapes has facilitated its spread across diverse environments, making it a subject of both admiration for its resilience and concern for its impact on native species.

House Sparrow

House Sparrows are extremely adaptable and can nest in a variety of urban and rural settings, including building eaves, street lights, and other man-made structures. Their nests are often untidy accumulations of materials gathered from the surrounding area.

They have a highly varied diet that includes seeds, fruits, and insects, which allows them to thrive in diverse environments from city centers to farmlands.

While not native to North America and often considered pests, conservation discussions around House Sparrows sometimes focus on their impact on native species, with efforts aimed at controlling their population in certain areas.

3. Swamp Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Melospiza georgiana
  • Life span: 2-4 years
  • Size: 5.5-6.3 in / 14-16 cm
  • Weight: 0.7-1.2 oz / 20-35 g
  • Wingspan: 8.7-9.1 in / 22-23 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and common

The Swamp Sparrow, an elusive inhabitant of marshy wetlands, is a study in subtle beauty. It dons a rusty cap, which contrasts with its gray face and a clean white throat, creating a serene yet striking appearance. Their back and wings are intricately patterned with browns and blacks, enabling them to blend seamlessly into their preferred reedy habitats.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrows build their nests in low bushes or directly on the ground in wetland areas, carefully concealing them with surrounding vegetation. These nests are vital for their survival in fluctuating wetland waters.

They mainly feed on insects and aquatic invertebrates during the breeding season, with seeds constituting a larger portion of their diet in the colder months. Their ability to exploit diverse food sources reflects their specialized marshland habitats.

Conservation of Swamp Sparrows involves protecting wetland habitats from drainage and pollution. Efforts to restore and preserve marshlands are crucial for maintaining the populations of this water-loving sparrow.

4. American Tree Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Spizella arborea
  • Life span: 2-6 years
  • Size: 5.9 in / 15 cm
  • Weight: 0.6-1.0 oz / 18-28 g
  • Wingspan: 7.9-9.1 in / 20-23 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and common

The American Tree Sparrow, a winter visitor across much of the Iowa spends its breeding season in the Arctic tundra of Canada and Alaska. Distinguished by its rusty cap and black eye-line, this sparrow wears a bicolored bill—yellow below and dark above—which adds a touch of whimsy to its otherwise modest brown and gray plumage.

As the cold weather sets in, it heads south, filling open fields and backyard feeders with its presence, much to the delight of birdwatchers.

American Tree Sparrow

The American Tree Sparrow’s nesting sites are hidden treasures of the tundra, woven among low shrubs or grass clumps, often close to the ground. These nests are cozy bowls lined with grass and feathers, crafted meticulously to cradle their future offspring.

In the wintry landscapes of Iowa, American Tree Sparrows switch from their summer insect diet to seeds and berries. These adaptable little foragers scratch at the frozen ground, often joining mixed flocks to take advantage of diverse feeding opportunities.

Despite facing challenges like habitat loss and climate change, American Tree Sparrows benefit from conservation efforts aimed at protecting the Arctic breeding grounds. Researchers emphasize the importance of monitoring their migration patterns to better understand environmental impacts.

5. Chipping Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Spizella passerina
  • Life span: 4-5 years
  • Size: 4.7-5.9 in / 12-15 cm
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz / 12-18 g
  • Wingspan: 7.9-9.1 in / 20-23 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

A familiar summer sight across much of North America, the Chipping Sparrow brings life to gardens and parks with its bright, crisp song. It boasts a striking rusty cap and a black eye-line across its otherwise pale face, with a clean gray breast and streak-free sides.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrows are industrious nest builders, preferring the fork of a bush or a tree branch for their construction site. Their nests are neatly woven with grass and lined with fine hair, creating a soft, welcoming environment for their young. This careful and deliberate placement helps protect the eggs from terrestrial predators and offers a bit of shade from the midday sun.

These sparrows have a diet that varies seasonally, feeding primarily on insects in the warmer months and seeds during the winter. Their ability to adapt their feeding habits helps them thrive in diverse environments, from woodlands to suburban backyards.

Chipping Sparrows face threats from habitat loss and competition with other bird species. Conservation efforts for these birds include promoting the preservation of natural habitats and educating the public on the importance of backyard biodiversity.

6. Field Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Spizella pusilla
  • Life span: 4-6 years
  • Size: 4.7-5.5 in / 12-14 cm
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz / 12-18 g
  • Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in / 19-22 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

With its warm rufous cap and clear, unmarked underparts, the Field Sparrow is a delightful sight in the open grasslands and edge habitats of eastern North America. This bird’s soft, melodic songs are a staple of the summer soundscape, filling the air with a series of accelerating whistles that seem to capture the essence of a peaceful, sunny day.

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrows use a variety of natural materials to construct their nests, which are typically placed on or near the ground in dense grass. These nests are less conspicuous than those of some other species, which helps protect them from predators.

Their diet mainly consists of insects during the summer months, which provides the protein necessary for the growth and development of their offspring. In the winter, they switch to seeds and other plant material as insects become scarce.

Field Sparrows have experienced a decline due to habitat loss and changes in land use. Conservationists are focused on preserving and restoring their natural habitats, particularly grasslands and open woodlands, to help stabilize their populations.

7. Savannah Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Passerculus sandwichensis
  • Life span: 3-7 years
  • Size: 5.5-6.7 in / 14-17 cm
  • Weight: 0.5-0.9 oz / 14-26 g
  • Wingspan: 7.9-9.4 in / 20-24 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Savannah Sparrow is a widespread presence across North America, easily recognized by its streaked appearance and yellowish eyebrow stripe. It favours open landscapes such as fields, pastures, and coastal marshes, where it can be seen running through the vegetation.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrows nest on the ground in open areas, often in a shallow depression they’ve lined with grass, feathers, and other fine materials. Their nesting sites are typically in locations with good visibility to spot approaching predators.

They primarily feed on a mix of insects and seeds. Their diet allows them to utilize a variety of habitats, from coastal marshes to agricultural fields, reflecting their adaptability and widespread presence across North America.

Savannah Sparrows face threats from habitat degradation, especially in nesting areas. Conservationists work to protect and restore grassland and wetland habitats, emphasizing the importance of ecological diversity to support these adaptable birds.

8. Bachman’s Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Peucaea aestivalis
  • Life span: 5-6 years
  • Size: 4.7-5.5 in / 12-14 cm
  • Weight: 0.5-0.8 oz / 14-22 g
  • Wingspan: 7.9-8.7 in / 20-22 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

Bachman’s Sparrows are primarily found in pine savannas and other open woodland areas where fire maintains the understory. This bird’s subtle beauty is marked by a warm brown back and buffy underparts, accented with fine streaks. The face features a distinct gray stripe above the eye, lending a soft, serene expression that belies its nature as a skulking, often unseen presence among the underbrush.

Bachman’s Sparrow

Bachman’s Sparrows construct their nests on the ground, hidden under a canopy of grass or low shrubs. These are delicate structures, often difficult to spot, reflecting the bird’s shy and elusive nature.

Primarily feeding on insects during the breeding season, Bachman’s Sparrow shifts to seeds in the colder months. Their diet reflects their habitat’s offerings, showcasing their adaptability to the southeastern scrublands.

Once more widespread, Bachman’s Sparrow has seen declines due to habitat degradation. Conservationists are focusing on prescribed burns and land management to maintain the open pine savannas they depend on.

9. Cassin’s Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Peucaea cassinii
  • Life span: 6-8 years
  • Size: 6 in / 15 cm
  • Weight: 0.7 oz / 20 g
  • Wingspan: 9 in / 23 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

Named after the ornithologist John Cassin, Cassin’s Sparrow can be found flitting through the brushy grasslands of the southwestern United States. With a grayish-brown back and lighter underparts, this bird may not catch the eye at first glance.

However, its performance of skylarking—soaring into the air and singing before descending—adds a dramatic flair to its otherwise nondescript appearance, celebrating the vast skies and open spaces of its range.

Cassin’s Sparrow

Cassin’s Sparrow prefers to nest on the ground, typically under a tuft of grass or bush, providing a hidden retreat for their eggs and chicks. Their nesting choice reflects their connection to the earthy, grassland habitat.

Their diet consists mostly of insects and seeds, which they glean from the ground. This diet supports them throughout their varied habitats, from grasslands to desert edges.

Their numbers fluctuate greatly with rainfall patterns, making them sensitive to climate change. Conservation efforts are geared towards understanding these patterns and protecting grassland habitats.

10. Black-throated Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Amphispiza bilineata
  • Life span: 3-5 years
  • Size: 5.5-6.3 in / 14-16 cm
  • Weight: 0.7-0.8 oz / 20-24 g
  • Wingspan: 7.9-8.7 in / 20-22 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

Inhabitants of the arid deserts of the southwestern U.S., the Black-throated Sparrow thrives in landscapes that are as harsh as they are beautiful. This small sparrow sports a striking face pattern with a bold black throat patch that contrasts sharply against its white belly and gray upper parts.

Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrows build their nests in the protection of thorny shrubs or dense brush, crafting from twigs and grasses a sturdy platform which they line with finer materials for their eggs.

Adapted to arid environments, these sparrows forage for seeds and small insects. Their ability to find sustenance in dry conditions highlights their resilience and specialized feeding behaviours.

Despite their adaptability, habitat loss and water scarcity pose threats. Conservation efforts include habitat restoration and water provisioning to support their populations in desert ecosystems.

11. Grasshopper Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Ammodramus savannarum
  • Life span: 2-4 years
  • Size: 4.7-5.5 in / 12-14 cm
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz / 12-18 g
  • Wingspan: 6.3-7.9 in / 16-20 cm
  • Status: Near Threatened
  • State status: Breeding and common

Favoured for its understated appearance and soft, insect-like song, the Grasshopper Sparrow inhabits the prairies and grasslands of central North America. Its brown and tan plumage helps it blend seamlessly into the tall grasses where it lives, making it nearly invisible.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrows exhibit a preference for nesting on the ground in open fields, often hidden beneath a tuft of grass or other vegetation to shield it from predators. Their nests, while simple cups of grass, are meticulously woven into the surrounding landscape, rendering them nearly invisible.

Their diet primarily includes insects and seeds, which reflects their prairie habitat’s offerings. Grasshopper Sparrows skillfully forage the ground for, you guessed it, grasshoppers, beetles, and other insects in the warmer months, switching to seeds when the temperature drops.

Conservation efforts for Grasshopper Sparrows focus on preserving native grasslands and managing agricultural practices that often disrupt their breeding territories. Programs that implement controlled burns and grazing help maintain the open habitats essential for their survival.

12. Henslow’s Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Ammodramus henslowii
  • Life span: 1-3 years
  • Size: 4.7-5.5 in / 12-14 cm
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz / 12-18 g
  • Wingspan: 6.7-7.9 in / 17-20 cm
  • Status: Near Threatened
  • State status: Breeding and rare

A secretive presence in the tallgrass prairies of the Midwest, Henslow’s Sparrow is often more heard than seen. This small, elusive bird has an olive-green head and a brown back with fine black streaks, blending perfectly with its habitat. It emits a short, weak song that sounds more like a hiccup than a typical bird call.

Henslow’s Sparrow

Henslow’s Sparrows are secretive nesters, preferring dense grasslands where they can build their nests well hidden in the vegetation. Their nests are simple yet effective, constructed low to the ground to avoid detection.

Their diet consists largely of insects during the breeding season, supplemented by seeds during other times of the year. This dietary flexibility helps them adapt to the availability of food resources in their environment.

Henslow’s Sparrow is among the most threatened grassland birds due to habitat loss from agricultural expansion and urban development. Conservation efforts are urgently focused on grassland restoration and management to prevent further declines.

13. Nelson’s Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Ammospiza nelsoni
  • Life span: 2-3 years
  • Size: 4.7-5.5 in / 12-14 cm
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz / 12-18 g
  • Wingspan: 6.7-7.5 in / 17-19 cm
  • Status: Near Threatened
  • State status: Migratory and rare

Nelson’s Sparrow, with its sharp orange breast and gray face, breeds in salt marshes along the Atlantic coast and the northern Great Plains. Its camouflage in the coastal reeds and grasses is perfect for its life on the margins of land and water.

Nelson’s Sparrow

Nelson’s Sparrows utilize their saltmarsh environments by building nests above the ground in dense marsh vegetation to avoid high tides. Their nests are well-camouflaged and resilient, structured to withstand the moist and dynamic marsh landscape.

Adapted to their unique saltmarsh habitats, Nelson’s Sparrows eat a mixture of insects and seeds. They often forage on the ground under the cover of marsh vegetation, searching for food brought in by tidal movements.

Nelson’s Sparrow is particularly sensitive to changes in its wetland habitats. Conservation efforts are critical in managing coastal wetlands and mitigating the impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rise and increased storm frequency.

14. Lark Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Chondestes grammacus
  • Life span: 4-6 years
  • Size: 5.9-6.7 in / 15-17 cm
  • Weight: 0.7-1.1 oz / 20-31 g
  • Wingspan: 9.1-10.2 in / 23-26 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Lark Sparrow is easily distinguishable by its striking face pattern with a contrasting white, black, and chestnut mask, and its long, melodious song. It inhabits open grasslands and fields across the central United States and into Canada, where it is often seen perched on wires or exposed branches.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrows are unique for their decorative nesting style, often using feathers and snake skin in their nest construction. They choose low bushes or trees to place their nests, which are more elaborate than those of many other sparrows.

Their diet is quite varied, including seeds, fruits, and insects, allowing them to take advantage of seasonal food sources available in their prairie and scrubland habitats.

Efforts to conserve Lark Sparrows involve maintaining open habitats with a mix of grass and scattered shrubs. This habitat management helps support not only Lark Sparrows but a variety of other bird species that share this ecosystem.

15. Brewer’s Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Spizella breweri
  • Life span: 3-4 years
  • Size: 4.7-5.1 in / 12-13 cm
  • Weight: 0.4-0.5 oz / 11-14 g
  • Wingspan: 7.1-7.5 in / 18-19 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

Brewer’s Sparrow holds a subdued charm that resonates with the muted tones of its sagebrush habitat across western North America. It features a uniform gray-brown plumage that blends seamlessly into its surroundings, a perfect adaptation for a life spent mostly out of sight.

Its unassuming appearance makes every sighting a rewarding experience for birdwatchers patient enough to discern its delicate features.

Brewer’s Sparrow

Brewer’s Sparrows nest primarily in dense sagebrush, their camouflaged nests are artfully hidden, making use of the surrounding vegetation to shield their young from predators.

They primarily consume insects during summer, switching to seeds in the off-season, reflecting the cyclical abundance of their sagebrush home.

As sagebrush habitats decline, so do Brewer’s Sparrows. Conservation initiatives focus on protecting these crucial areas from overgrazing and development, aiming to stabilize their delicate population.

16. Vesper Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Pooecetes gramineus
  • Life span: 2-5 years
  • Size: 5.9 in / 15 cm
  • Weight: 9.5–28.3 g (0.69–1.00 oz)
  • Wingspan: 8.7-9.8 in / 22-25 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Vesper Sparrow’s habitat spans a wide swath of North America, favouring open fields and grasslands where its song can carry on the breeze at dusk. With a white eye-ring and streaked brown body, it blends into the twilight landscapes it prefers.

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrows nest on the ground in open fields, camouflaging their nests among the grasses to avoid detection. They often select sites with a good view of the surrounding landscape to monitor for threats.

Their diet mainly consists of insects during the breeding season, supplemented by grass seeds in the off-season. This dietary pattern allows Vesper Sparrows to take full advantage of the changing food availability in their grassland habitats, ensuring they have access to the necessary nutrients year-round.

Vesper Sparrows face challenges from habitat loss due to agricultural development and urbanization. Conservation strategies focus on preserving natural grasslands and implementing sustainable farming practices that support biodiversity, ensuring that these sparrows and other grassland birds have a place to thrive.

17. Harris’s Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Zonotrichia querula
  • Life span: 4-5 years
  • Size: 6.7-7.5 in / 17-19 cm
  • Weight: 1.2-1.5 oz / 34-43 g
  • Wingspan: 10.6-11.8 in / 27-30 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and common

Harris’s Sparrow, wintering in the Great Plains and breeding in the central Canadian Arctic, is notable for being North America’s largest sparrow. It sports a striking black bib and face that contrast beautifully with its white belly and brown flanks.

This bold pattern makes it a standout among sparrows, especially in the snowy backdrops of its winter haunts, where it forages beneath feeders or along the snowy ground, offering a flash of dark and light against the winter white.

Harris’s Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrows build hidden nests on the ground in the northern boreal forests, using twigs and grasses lined with finer materials. Their nesting sites are chosen for optimum concealment, often under a shrub or a dense clump of vegetation.

In winter, these sparrows often join flocks where they primarily feed on seeds and berries. During the breeding season, insects become a significant part of their diet, providing the necessary protein to fuel the growth of their young.

As a species that relies on specific habitats, Harris’s Sparrows are vulnerable to habitat loss due to forestry practices and land development. Conservation initiatives focus on protecting their breeding and wintering grounds through international cooperation.

18. White-crowned Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Zonotrichia leucophrys
  • Life span: 6-13 years
  • Size: 6.7-7.9 in / 17-20 cm
  • Weight: 0.9-1.4 oz / 26-40 g
  • Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in / 25-30 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and common

The White-crowned Sparrow, a striking figure with bold black and white stripes on its head, is a familiar sight across North America, from tundra to desert. It migrates between its northern breeding grounds and more temperate winter locales, making its presence known with a clear, whistling song.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrows build their nests either on the ground under sheltering vegetation or just a few feet off the ground in bushes. They create a substantial nest base of twigs and grass, lined with softer materials for comfort and insulation.

This species has a diverse diet that includes seeds, fruits, and insects, which varies with the seasons and the sparrow’s specific habitat. The adaptability in their diet allows them to thrive in a variety of environments, from the tundra to urban settings.

White-crowned Sparrows are widespread and versatile, but they still benefit from conservation efforts that protect critical habitats, especially along migration routes and in breeding areas. Maintaining large, contiguous tracts of natural land is key to supporting their migratory lifestyle and breeding requirements.

19. Lincoln’s Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Melospiza lincolnii
  • Life span: 3-5 years
  • Size: 4.7-5.9 in / 12-15 cm
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz / 12-18 g
  • Wingspan: 7.1-7.9 in / 18-20 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and common

Lincoln’s Sparrow is a modestly adorned, yet subtly beautiful bird with fine, crisp streaks on a buff background and a buffy mustache stripe. It breeds in the boreal forests and alpine meadows of Canada and the northern United States, migrating to more southern regions in the winter.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrows build their nests hidden in dense vegetation, often near the ground under a bush or a thick clump of grass. These nests are carefully concealed to protect against predators and the elements, crafted from grasses and lined with softer materials for insulation.

This sparrow’s diet changes with the seasons, feeding primarily on a wide range of insects in the summer and seeds in the winter. Their ability to switch between food sources is vital for surviving the varying conditions throughout their migratory range.

Lincoln’s Sparrows benefit from conservation measures that protect wetland and bushland habitats. Efforts to reduce pesticide use also play a crucial role in preserving the insect populations they depend on for food.

20. Fox Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Passerella iliaca
  • Life span: 3-6 years
  • Size: 6.7-7.9 in / 17-20 cm
  • Weight: 1.4-1.8 oz / 40-52 g
  • Wingspan: 10.2-11.8 in / 26-30 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and common

Robust and richly coloured, the Fox Sparrow is a heavy-set sparrow that brings a splash of color to its environments. It varies regionally in color, but generally features a mix of rust-brown shades that evoke the fur of its namesake.

During migration, this bird can be seen scratching through the leaf litter of forest floors across North America, its vigorous foraging as lively as its bold, ringing song.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrows build robust nests, often on the ground or in low bushes. These nests are bulky, made of twigs, and lined with soft materials like moss and leaves, reflecting the bird’s need for sturdy construction to withstand the elements.

As one of the larger sparrow species, Fox Sparrows have a hearty appetite, feeding on a variety of seeds and insects. They are particularly known for their vigorous “double-scratch” foraging technique, which involves kicking backward with both feet to uncover hidden food sources.

Conservation efforts for Fox Sparrows involve protecting their breeding and wintering habitats from degradation and fragmentation. As residents of dense, shrubby habitats, maintaining the integrity of these environments is essential for their survival.

21. Clay-coloured Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Spizella pallida
  • Life span: 4-7 years
  • Size: 4.7-5.9 in / 12-15 cm
  • Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz / 12-20 g
  • Wingspan: 7.1-7.9 in / 18-20 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and common

Venturing from the northern Great Plains of Canada into the U.S. during its breeding season, the Clay-coloured Sparrow is a study in subtlety. Its pale, buffy-gray face is marked with a dark line through the eye and a pale stripe over the crown.

This bird’s modest plumage allows it to disappear into the background of open shrubby fields, where it sings its buzzy, insect-like trill that pierces the still air.

Clay-coloured Sparrow

Clay-coloured Sparrows opt for low shrubs or tall grasses to construct their nests, which they skillfully camouflage using local vegetation. The nest itself is a cup-shaped structure, intricately woven to secure and shelter their progeny from the unpredictable prairie weather.

In the breeding season, their diet consists predominantly of insects, providing high-energy nourishment for their chicks. As seasons change, seeds become the dietary staple, demonstrating their ability to exploit the available resources within their ecosystem efficiently.

This species benefits from targeted conservation strategies aimed at preserving prairie habitats and controlling invasive plant species that threaten their food sources and nesting areas. Efforts to understand and mitigate the impacts of agricultural practices on their natural habitats are also crucial.

22. Eurasian Tree Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Passer montanus
  • Life span: 3 years
  • Size: 12.5–14 cm (4.9–5.5 inches)
  • Weight: 18–25 g (0.63–0.88 oz)
  • Wingspan: 20–22 cm (7.9–8.7 inches)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

A native to Europe and Asia, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow has made parts of the Midwest its home, particularly around St. Louis, where it was introduced in the 1870s. This small bird resembles its cousin, the House Sparrow, but can be distinguished by its rich brown head and the black spot on its pure white cheeks.

It enjoys the company of humans and can often be seen bustling about in trees and shrubs in urban and suburban settings.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Unlike their relative, the House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrows are less aggressive and tend to nest in quieter areas. They often choose cavities in trees or nest boxes provided by humans, lining them with grass, feathers, and other soft materials to create a comfortable nesting site.

Eurasian Tree Sparrows are opportunistic feeders, dining on a mix of insects, seeds, and scraps. Their diet reflects their adaptable nature, allowing them to thrive in both rural and urban settings.

Originally introduced to North America, Eurasian Tree Sparrows have not spread widely beyond the Midwest. Conservation efforts are minimal, focusing mainly on monitoring their populations and studying their impact on native species.

23. LeConte’s Sparrow

  • Scientific name: Ammospiza leconteii
  • Life span: 2-3 years
  • Size: 4.3-5.1 in / 11-13 cm
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz / 12-18 g
  • Wingspan: 5.9-6.7 in / 15-17 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

Among the marshes and wet meadows of the northern United States and Canada, LeConte’s Sparrow offers a glimpse into the subtle beauty of nature’s less conspicuous creatures. Its orange-buff face and finely streaked nape, coupled with its tendency to remain hidden among the grasses, make it a challenging yet rewarding bird to observe.

LeConte’s Sparrow

LeConte’s Sparrows select dense, moist grasslands for their nesting sites, often choosing spots that are well-hidden by a thick cover of grass or reeds. Their nests are intricately constructed on the ground, offering a snug and concealed haven for their eggs and chicks.

The diet of LeConte’s Sparrow is predominantly insects during the breeding season, providing them with high protein content necessary for breeding success. During the non-breeding season, they shift to seeds, which are abundant in their grassland habitats.

LeConte’s Sparrow faces challenges from habitat loss due to agricultural expansion and wetland drainage. Conservation efforts focus on preserving and restoring wet meadow and prairie habitats, which are crucial for the survival of this elusive sparrow.

Where to find Sparrows in Iowa

In Iowa, the quest to spot sparrows can turn an ordinary day into an adventure. These birds thrive across a variety of habitats, from bustling city parks to tranquil rural landscapes. To find them, venture out early in the morning or just before dusk when sparrows are most active, and bring along a pair of binoculars for a closer look.

Listen for their distinct chirps and songs. Excellent locations to start your search include the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Ledges State Park, the Dubuque Arboretum, and Lake Red Rock area. Each of these spots offers unique environments that support a diverse range of sparrow species, making them ideal for bird watchers and nature lovers alike.

If theses spots are not in your neighbourhood, your own backyard might be a good place to start your sparrow watching!


Sparrows in Iowa, from grasslands to gardens, showcase the rich avian diversity of the state. Through understanding their unique behaviours and conservation needs, Iowans can contribute to sustaining these charming birds that play such a vital role in our local ecosystems.

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