7 Small Brown Backyard Birds

When you’re thinking of small brown birds, sparrows may be the first ones to come to mind. And rightfully so. They’re abundant in towns, farms, and wherever else people live. So, naturally, they’re in your backyard too.

But sparrows aren’t the only small brown birds you’ll see in your backyard. There are others too, especially the females of some bird species like the Brown-headed Cowbird or the House Finch.

Below, I’ve gathered seven of the small brown backyard birds that you’re most likely to encounter.

Female House Finch

Unlike the male House finch whose face and upper chest are a beautiful rosy red, the female House finch features light brown plumage with blurry streaks down the belly. Immature male finches are also brown.

The House finch is a small-bodied bird with short wings, relatively long tail, and large, conical bill, and a head that looks slightly flattened from the sides.

While this bird likes to frequent bird feeders, the House finch is abundant not only in backyards, but in a variety of other habitats too, many of which are urban settings.

From city parks and urban centers to forest edges and farms, the House finch is a common presence. In the western part of the U.S., you can find this bird in open woodlands, grasslands, and even desert habitats.

When not perched up in trees and shrubs, the House Finch can be seen foraging the ground for seeds.

Because they enjoy feeding in their social groups, they gather in flocks of 50 and take your bird feeders by storm.

Although they’ll visit most types of feeders, they seem to enjoy tube feeders most. If you’re looking to attract these birds to your yard, put hulled sunflowers and black oil sunflower seeds in your feeders.

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Another small bird whose brown plumage qualifies it for this list is the female Red-winged Blackbird.

It’s common for the males of various bird species to sport much more colorful plumage yet save for the red and yellow markings on the male’s wings, the female Red-winged Blackbird is technically more colorful.

That’s because unlike the male red-winged Blackbird whose plumage is a glossy black, the female’s plumage is brown with heavy streaks throughout the body and a yellow wash around the beak.

The markings on the wings are smaller than the male’s and instead of the strong red-orange color, it’s more of a rusty red.

These blackbirds are year-round residents in the U.S. and in Mexico. Those blackbirds that have their summer breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska, will migrate south in winter.

Although their habitat is closely linked to sources of water – marshes, wet roadsides, watercourses, etc. – they will visit drier areas as well including old fields and meadows.

They often visit bird feeders in search for grains and seeds in the winter. Just like they’ll visit feedlots, pastures and crop fields.

Because they’ll eat most seeds including millet, cracked corn, sunflower, and even suet, they’re easy to attract to your backyard.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird

Not as motherly as other female birds, the female Brown-headed Cowbird has a different approach to raising its young – it doesn’t bother with building nests and feeding its young, instead it outsources all responsibility to other birds. How? By being a brood parasite.

The brown-headed Cowbird chooses to lay its eggs in the nests of other birds, going as far as to destroy the eggs and nestlings that it finds there.

The female can lay more than three dozen eggs a summer. It doesn’t stick around raising its young either – it leaves that to other birds as well.

Some birds have caught up with the shenanigans of cowbirds and can identify and destroy the eggs of cowbirds by either puncturing them or throwing them out of their nests.

The male of the species is glossy black with a brown hood, while the female has pale brown plumage. The female is smaller. Both sexes have short, conical bills.

You’ll notice this small brown bird in your backyard if you have an open lawn or ground, or if you’re raising livestock.

As ground foragers, cowbirds feed on grains and various seeds they can find. When not feeding, they stay perched up in trees.

These birds can also be observed in meadows, pastures, forest edges and various other open habitats.

Bewick’s Wren

A truly small brown bird that you might mistake for a sparrow if not for the long tail that’s often held up and the long and slightly curved bill, the Bewick’s Wren is pale brown above and light brown below. The white eyebrow stripe is another notable feature.

You can find this wren in a range of habitats including open woodlands near streams or rivers, open country, gardens, residential areas, suburbs, parks and cities.

As a foliage gleaner, the Bewick’s Wren feeds on insects in bushes and shrubs. If you want to attract this bird to your backyard, I advise you to do a little landscaping by planting native shrubs.

Planting native shrubs such as elderberry, mesquite, willow, chaparral plants can offer the Bewick’s Wren a hospitable environment and sources of food.

This wren species prefers nesting in the cavities of trees, although it will use nest boxes too, if available.

Unfortunately, a sharp decline of the Bewick’s Wren was observed in the eastern part of the U.S. It is believed that this decline may have been caused by the House Wren, whose practice of removing eggs from nesting cavities may have impacted the Bewick’s Wren population.

Song Sparrow

Now that I’ve discussed all the other small brown bird species that aren’t sparrows, I can finally present some species of Sparrows that you’ll notice in your garden or backyard.

The Song sparrow has a rich russet and gray plumage that’s heavily streaked on the breast and sides.

The bird prefers open, shrubby or wet areas, and will often visit bird feeders and even build nests in residential areas.

As for their diet, insects and invertebrates make up the largest chunk of their diet. From ground beetles, caterpillars, earthworms and spiders to weevils and dragonflies, the Song sparrow eats a variety of insects.

When insects are no longer available, the Song Sparrow adapts its diet and switches to berries like blueberries, strawberries, wild cherries, mulberries, and others.

It also consumes seeds and other plant foods such as wheat, rice, sunflower seeds, clover, ragweed, buckwheat, and others.

House Sparrow

Another Sparrow species you’ll frequently encounter at bird feeders is the House Sparrow. As its name suggests, the House sparrow is mostly found in towns and cities, and anywhere where humans are.

Their plumage is a rich brown above and gray below. Males have a black bib and light gray cheeks.

Although somewhat similar to North American sparrows, House Sparrows are not related to them since they’re an introduced species along with the European Starling or the Rock Pigeon.

Because they’re in a habit of displacing native birds from nest boxes, House Sparrows aren’t viewed favorably, and most people resent their presence.

Despite this, they’re one of the most common birds in North America. They’re also one of the most frequent visitors to bird feeders. They feed on a variety of seeds such as corn, millet, and sunflower seeds.

As omnivores, their varied diet allows them to survive without having to migrate, and therefore, they stay year-round in their breeding grounds.

Fox Sparrow

Another sparrow that you can encounter in your backyard is the Fox Sparrow. The name is illustrative of the warm browns and reds of their plumage.

The Fox sparrow can be mainly observed during winter when they abandon their breeding grounds and seek out backyard thickets.

If you want to encourage their presence in your backyard, you can easily do so by planting shrubs and berry bushes in your yard. Keeping a brush pile at the edge of your yard is another way to attract these small brown birds.

Fox sparrows are ground foragers, feeding close to dense vegetation. They seek out small seeds and berries, as well as a variety of insects.

They tend to kick away the leaf litter in search of their food, so you’ll know you’re in the presence of a Fox sparrow if you notice a spray of leaf litter being sent up in your backyard.

The Fox sparrow will not only feed close to the ground in dense vegetation, but it will also build its nest there. However, for their breeding sites, they prefer coniferous forests and dense mountain scrub.


Some of the brown birds I discussed in this article aren’t a welcome presence, while others might not be so common as one would wish.

There are ways to attract the bird you’d like to visit most by doing a little landscaping, setting up nest boxes, or placing seeds and food they like most.

Some birds will visit your garden regardless of the types of food you offer them and even if you don’t offer them any food. One such bird is the House Sparrow, whose life is so intertwined with that of humans that they’ve become an inescapable presence in most areas.

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