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David Sibley tells how to identify streaky sparrows by their back pattern

USEFUL BACK PATTERNS: Each species above has a streaked back, but the patterns are distinctly different. House Sparrow sports bold stripes, House Finch appears smudgy, Chipping Sparrow has even streaks, and Song Sparrow looks spangled. Art by David Sibley.
USEFUL BACK PATTERNS: Each species above has a streaked back, but the patterns are distinctly different. House Sparrow sports bold stripes, House Finch appears smudgy, Chipping Sparrow has even streaks, and Song Sparrow looks spangled. Art by David Sibley.

When we talk about identifying sparrows and other streaky brownish birds, one of the things we focus on is whether the breast is streaked or unstreaked.

This is a good place to start, as it allows us to divide birds swiftly into two groups, but what then? Or what if the bird is facing away from you? The pattern of streaks on the back can be helpful as well, but we tend to overlook this field mark.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), and guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

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