With over 140 sparrow species in total in the world, many of them are with red coloration on their heads!
Examples of sparrows with red heads include the chipping sparrow, cinnamon ibon, chestnut sparrow, tepui brushfinch, russet sparrow, and many others.
Brilliant red colors on their heads are not just accidental, they serve a purpose. In many species, bright red on the head helps stand out and attract mates!
Note: People often think that red-headed house finches are sparrows – this is not the case! As the name suggests, they are finches and not sparrows and can’t be listed as one of the examples.
Sparrows With Red Heads
1. Chipping Sparrow
- Scientific Name: Spizella passerina
- Length: 4.7-5.9 in
Chipping sparrows are small songbirds commonly found around forests, gardens, and fields in North America.
These delicate and active sparrows have notched tails, gray underparts, and orange-rust upperparts. When the breeding season comes, they will develop a distinctive bright red crown on their heads.
They can be also identified by dusky eyebrows and dark eye-lines; during the breeding season, the lines above each eye become nearly white.
Listen for the song of male chipping sparrows, a long, dry trill of evenly spaced, almost mechanical-sounding chips. To communicate with others, they will emit a single “chip” call. Their alarm call is a long “zeee.”
Source: G. McGrane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
During winter, they love to gather in huge flocks, sometimes with other bird species. They are omnivores and feed on seeds, buds, and some insects.
There are two subspecies, the eastern and the western chipping sparrows. Western ones will breed in coniferous forests while the eastern ones choose gardens, parks, farmlands, and woodlands.
Chipping sparrows are just one of many songbirds commonly found in Michigan and Minnesota.
2. Green-tailed Towhee
- Scientific Name: Pipilo chlorurus
- Length: 7.25 in
Green-tailed towhees are one of the larger American sparrow species.
These birds breed in the western parts of the USA before moving to the southern parts of the country and Mexico for winter.
Green-tailed towhees are easy to identify by the bright green-yellow upperparts, white throats, and red caps on their heads.
They might be hard to see as they prefer to stay hidden so the best chance of identifying them is by their calls. Males will often sing from the top of a shrub – listen for their quiet catlike “mew” calls.
Green-tailed towhees breed around montane forests and open slopes and will move to dense thickets during winter. They forage on the ground, feeding on seeds and insects. You might have trouble attracting them to your backyard as they rarely visit feeders.
3. Tepui Brushfinch
- Scientific Name: Atlapetes personatus
- Length: 7 in
Tepui brushfinches are large and colorful New World sparrows with red heads.
They were named after the areas they live in: tepuis of South America. They are common in moist montane forests of Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil, at elevations ranging from 3,200 to 8,200 feet.
They can be identified by their olive-gray upperparts, yellow breasts and bellies, and rufous heads. They can be usually seen alone, in pairs, or in small family groups as they roam through leaf litter looking for insects and seeds.
Tepui brushfinches are very vocal birds that have a short song consisting of a series of whistled sounds; their main call is a dry chip.
4. Ochre-breasted Brushfinch
- Scientific Name: Atlapetes semirufus
- Length: 7 in
Ochre-breasted brushfinches are slim brush-finch species with finely tipped and pointed beaks.
These unique New World sparrows also have rusty orange-red heads and breasts, olive upperparts, and yellow underparts.
Ochre-breasted brushfinches are found in the understory of montane forests and edges – they are common in Colombia and Venezuela, at elevations from 3,200 to 11,500 feet. They love to remain hidden in dense vegetation which makes it hard to spot them.
Ochre-breasted brushfinches mostly forage on the ground, in shrubs, and small trees, where they feed on seeds, arthropods, and some small fruits and berries.
5. Slaty Brushfinch
- Scientific Name: Atlapetes schistaceus
- Length: 7 in
Slaty brushfinches are South American sparrows. They live in the humid forests of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, at elevations ranging from 8,200 to 11,150 feet.
Slaty brushfinches are mostly gray with rufous-red crowns, white throats, and white wing patches at primary feathers (in some populations). They are omnivores that feed on fruit and insects, usually found in pairs or flocks with other birds.
Not too much is known about the species.
6. Fulvous-headed Brushfinch
- Scientific Name: Atlapetes fulviceps
- Length: 6.7 in
These red headed South American sparrows live in montane forests and heavily degraded former forests of Bolivia and Argentina.
Fulvous-headed brushfinches have olive upperparts, yellow underparts, and rufous red heads – they resemble rust-and-yellow tanagers a lot. They can be seen in pairs, often traveling with flocks of mixed bird species.
7. Cinnamon Ibon
- Scientific Name: Hypocryptadius cinnamomeus
- Length: 5.9 in
These medium-sized Old World sparrows have the top of their heads and upperparts entirely bright cinnamon red. They also have pale orange throats, chests, sides, white bellies, and red eyes.
Cinnamon ibons live in the montane forests and mossy forests above 3,300 feet in the Philippines. They can be also identified by their high-pitched squeals, nasal “wiks“, and strong “piuu-piuu” calls.
Cinnamon ibons forage in groups and mostly feed on insects.
8. Chestnut Sparrow
- Scientific Name: Passer eminibey
- Length: 4.3 in
Chesnut sparrows are the smallest sparrows in the world, measuring just 4.3 inches long and weighing between 0.4 and 0.6 oz. These tiny birds are found in dry savannas, woodlands, fields, and villages of East Africa.
Males have chestnut-red plumage with darker heads while females have dull-gray plumage with some chestnut markings.
Chestnut sparrows are very social and will form large flocks, often with other bird species. They feed on grass seeds and some insects, mostly foraging on the ground. Identify them by their chirping and chattering calls.
9. Russet Sparrow
- Scientific Name: Passer cinnamomeus
- Length: 5.5-5.9 in
Also known as cinnamon or cinnamon tree sparrows, these small seed-eating birds are found in parts of eastern Asia and the Himalayas. They live in high-elevation farms, fields, and open forests.
Breeding males have bright russet or cinnamon red heads and upperparts and pale gray underparts. When the non-breeding season comes, they become paler with more orange upperparts. Females are brownish with pale underparts and white wingbars.
Often described as the most musical of all sparrows, russet sparrows will make “cheep” calls and “chu-swik” songs.
Source: Shyamal L., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
They behave similarly to house sparrows and will feed on the ground, looking for seeds, berries, and some insects. Russet sparrows love to spend most of their time perched on exposed branches
10. Eurasian Tree Sparrow
- Scientific Name: Passer montanus
- Length: 5-5.5 in
In Europe and Asia, they are known as tree sparrows while in North America where they were introduced are known as Eurasian tree sparrows or German sparrows.
No matter what you call them, these sparrows have light brown upperparts, brown wings with white bars, and rich brownish-red heads.
They are closely related to house sparrows but are slightly smaller than them. Eurasian tree sparrows are common in noisy and small flocks, around lightly wooded open countryside.
They are omnivores that mostly feed on seeds, grains, and fruits, but will also take insects, especially during the breeding season.
Eurasian tree sparrows look similar across their entire range, but there are over 15 subspecies recognized. Identify them by their high-pitched song and a hard “tik-tik” call they make during flight.
People introduced them to North America to help them remove pests, but were soon disappointed as the birds failed to do so. These red headed sparrows multiplied and feasted on grains instead, making people go from greeting them with joy to looking at them with bitterness.
11. Spanish Sparrow
- Scientific Name: Passer hispaniolensis
- Length: 6-6.5 in
Spanish sparrows are also known as willow sparrows.
These rather large sparrow species are found in Europe, Asia, and Africa, around wet areas near the water with trees and shrubs. They are also common around urban areas.
Breeding males have bright chestnut red crowns and napes, black throats, and dark bellies and tails; they become much duller and paler during the winter season.
There are two subspecies of these sparrows that mostly look similar.
Spanish sparrows are very noisy birds that often make “churp” flight calls, “que-que” contact calls, “quer” alarm calls, and fast “cheeli-cheeli” calls to attract females. When the breeding season comes, they will make huge groups with hundreds and thousands of birds.
Spanish sparrows mostly feed on grains and seeds, and some insects, and larvae. They have a large population, with a global estimate ranging between 17 and 74 million birds.
12. Somali Sparrow
- Scientific Name: Passer castanopterus
- Length: 14 in
These Old World sparrows are found in dry parts of the horn of Africa. They live in Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, and Ethiopia and are listed as a species of Least Concern.
Somali sparrows inhabit deserts, dry thorn savannas, thorn scrubs, and coastal cliffs, where they feed on seeds.
You will recognize males by their chestnut red crowns and napes, black bibs, and pale underparts. Females have slightly duller colors.
These birds look like house sparrows but have reddish-brown instead of gray crowns of house sparrows. Identify them also by their “cheep” calls.
Somali sparrows were discovered in 1855 by an English naturalist called John Hanning Speke.
There are over 140 sparrow species today that can be split into two main groups: Old World sparrows and New World sparrows. Regardless of the group they belong to, many of them have distinctive red colors on their heads.
In case you’ve stumbled upon any of these birds, we hope this guide helped you identify which ones they were.
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