If you’ve ever observed small, brownish birds hopping around your yard, grazing for seeds or insects, you may have called them sparrows without actually being sure of their proper identification. The truth is, there are many small brown birds, such as wrens, that look similar to sparrows. But wrens and sparrows are not the same; what are some ways in which you can tell them apart?
In this article, we’ll compare the wren vs. the sparrow, identifying features for each, as well as briefly discuss some other birds that look similar to sparrows.
What You'll Learn Today
How Do You Identify a Wren?
Wrens are small birds with big voices. They have several identifying features:
- Size: Wrens are very small–even smaller than sparrows. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, wrens are about 9 to 10 cm (3 to 4 inches) long, with a wingspan of about 13 to 17 cm (5 to 6 ½ inches).
- Body shape: Wrens have a rounded, almost puffy-looking body shape. They are generally more squat-looking than sparrows.
- Coloring: There are different subspecies of wren, and their coloring varies, but in general, wrens are light brown and speckled with lighter tones on the underside and darker tones on the topside.
- “Eyebrow:” Most wrens have a white line above each eye that extends toward the back of the head. This white marking looks similar to an eyebrow.
- Bill shape: Wrens have very long and slender bills that look almost needle-like, especially when the bill is opened.
- Tail length: Wrens have relatively short tails compared to their overall body size. They sometimes keep their tails pointed vertically.
- Song: Wrens have a loud, trilling, clicking type of a call; it is made using fast clicks in succession, is rather high-pitched, and is remarkably loud for a sound made by such a small bird.
How Do You Identify a Sparrow?
Sparrows are also small but are easy to distinguish from wrens if you know what to look for. Let’s explore their identifying features:
- Size: Sparrows are typically larger than wrens; most sparrows are at least 6 inches long with wingspan of 5 ½ to 7 inches, sometimes larger.
- Body shape: Sparrows are generally longer and more slender than wrens.
- Coloring: Like wrens, there are many subspecies of sparrow, and their coloring varies; but generally, they have dark brown wings and white underparts. Males may have black throats and masks, while females are generally lighter and may have a brown line extending backward from each eye.
- Wing bar: Many sparrow subspecies have a prominent white marking near the shoulder of each wing.
- Bill shape: A sparrow’s bill is short and stubby; in fact, the bill shape is perhaps the most notable difference between sparrows and wrens.
- Tail length: A sparrow’s tail is short but generally longer than a wren’s, as well as broader.
- Song: A sparrow’s song varies depending on the subspecies of sparrow. Sparrows generally make a chirping, warbling sound which is not especially loud given the sparrow’s size.
Is a House Wren a Sparrow?
No, a house wren is a type of wren, and wrens and sparrows are not the same. There is a type of sparrow called a house sparrow, but also not the same as a house wren.
Wrens belong to the family Troglodytidae, while sparrows belong to the families Passeridae (Old World sparrows) and Passerellidae (New World sparrows). They are both considered passerine birds, meaning they are both from the order Passeriformes, along with half of all bird species.
House sparrows are highly identifiable by their bright markings–white bellies contrasted with dark brown and black feathers on top. House wrens are more muted brown in color, smaller, and have more slender beaks and louder songs.
Both house wrens and house sparrows seem relatively unafraid of humans and will live in birdhouses in the yard.
Check out this video for a good visual of the differences between house wrens and house sparrows.
What Bird is Similar to a Sparrow?
As noted above, there are many different species belonging to the order Passeriformes, and all of these birds are somewhat related to sparrows. But some birds are more easily confused with sparrows due to their similarity in appearance.
These similar-looking birds include:
- Wrens: As we’ve been discussing, wrens are generally smaller with lighter coloring than sparrows, and their beaks are much longer and more slender. But from a distance, they can appear very similar to sparrows due to their similar coloring.
- Finches: Finches typically come in different colors than sparrows do; whereas sparrows are usually shades of brown, black, and gray, finches may come in shades of red, purple, and yellow. But their body shape, tails, and bills look very similar to those of sparrows.
- Chickadees: Chickadees are generally more squat-looking than sparrows, similar in that way to wrens; their beaks are also quite small compared to sparrows. But their coloring and markings can make them easy to confuse with sparrows, especially when seen from a distance.
It’s also worth noting that there are many different types of sparrows, and they often look similar to each other even when they belong to different subspecies. One type of sparrow may easily be confused for another type.
The same is true with wrens, which also tend to look very similar despite differences in subspecies. Different types of wren may also be confused quite easily.
The key to properly identifying any bird is to pay attention to the details. Take special note of the shades of colors, markings, beak size and shape, body shape, and tail length, as these can give you clues to help you separate and properly identify similar-looking birds.
Read also: Where Do Wrens Sleep At Night?
Wrens and sparrows may look similar at first glance, but they are not the same type of bird and they have several distinctive features to help you tell them apart. Some of these features include the “eyebrow” marking above a wren’s eye, the “wing bar” marking on a sparrow’s back, and the difference in the shape of their bills.