Birds come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors, and brown is one of the most common colors in the bird world, making them difficult to distinguish. Do you have a visitor at your backyard feeder that you need help identifying? Check out this list of the 12 most familiar types of brown birds, including where they live and how to attract them to your yard.
Little buntings are small passerine birds featuring heavy dark brown streaking above and whitish-buff underparts. Their heads are a deep chestnut brown, and they have a broad black line running vertically across their head and around their cheeks.
They breed in boreal forests in northeastern Europe into far eastern Russia, nesting in coniferous woodlands where they lay their eggs in trees. During winter, they migrate to northern India, southern China, and Southeast Asia. Buntings are granivorous, meaning they primarily eat small seeds, like millet and Nyger. Little buntings don’t typically visit backyard feeders, except occasionally during migration.
Brown creepers, also known as American treecreepers, are small songbirds who get their name from their unique tree-colored camouflage. Their upper parts are light to medium brown with light spotting and white underparts. They also have long, thin bills and long, rigid tails, which they use as support as they climb trees.
The treecreeper is native to North America, where they are permanent residents through most of their range. They breed in coniferous forests in Canada, Alaska, and the northeastern and western United States, and northern populations travel throughout the United States during winter. Vagrants have been recorded as far south as Guatemala, Bermuda, Honduras, and El Salvador. It’s easier to attract brown creepers to your yard during winter by supplying suet, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, and pine seeds.
The brown jay is a moderately-sized jay native to North America, and its plumage varies based on its geographic region. Northern populations are entirely dark brown with light brown underparts, and southern brown jays have white bellies and bright white tips on their outer feathers. All adults have black bills, legs, and feet, while juveniles feature yellow bills.
This jay species inhabits dense riverside woods in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and many woodland habitats in Mexico and parts of Central America, including Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Brown jays are omnivores who eat a variety of animal and plant matter and can be attracted to backyards with peanuts, suet, mealworms, sunflower seeds, and berries.
The skylark is a European passerine bird with dull streaky-brown plumage above and pale underparts. This species features short, blunt head crests, short tails, and short, broad wings with white edges. Males feature wider wings, and the white edgings can only be seen when the bird is flying away from the observer.
Skylarks breed throughout Europe, Asia, and North African mountains, with only some populations migrating further south in winter. Those in the western range remain permanent in their habitats year-round, while eastern skylarks choose to move south. They primarily eat insects, seeds, and young leaves, and forage by sauntering across the ground. These birds prefer open farmland and grassland and are not known for visiting feeders.
The Smith’s longspur is a North American ground-feeding bird featuring a heavily streaked grey, brown, and white back. Adult males have orange throats, napes, and underparts, with black and white faces. And females and juveniles have softer streaking with buffy underparts and light-colored faces.
They breed in open grassy areas near Northern Canada and Alaska forest edges. In winter, they form flocks in large fields in the Southern United States. You can often see them migrating during the fall over the Great Plains. The Smith’s longspur is mainly a seed eater but supplements its diet with insects during summer. This species is not likely to visit residential backyards, preferring to inhabit agricultural fields and pastures.
The common myna, also known as the Indian myna, is a medium-sized starling featuring a distinctive brown body, black head, and yellow patches behind its eyes. It also has bright yellow bills and legs, with white wing patches and linings. Males and females are difficult to distinguish because they look very similar.
This species is native to Asia but has been introduced to many parts of the world, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Its population size has increased significantly over the last 20 years, and it is now considered one of the world’s worst invasive species. They typically reside in open woodlands, but you can also find them in urban and suburban settings. This species is a nuisance to city buildings, blocking gutters and rain pipes and causing water damage.
Tree pipits are small passerine birds fairly undistinguished-looking from other brown bird species. They have streaky brown backs and white bellies with black markings, and they look almost exactly like the meadow pipit, except slightly larger with a heavier bill.
Their natural habitats include open woodlands and scrublands. And they are migratory birds who breed across Europe and northern Asia and winter in Africa and southern Asia. You will primarily find them on the ground or in low-canopy trees, where they forage on invertebrates.
Brown shrikes, or “butcher birds,” are passerine birds primarily found in Asia. They have distinctive black bandit-like masks through their eyes, brown bodies, and heads with rufous-colored bellies. Females differ slightly and feature brown masks not as well defined as the males.
They are migratory birds that breed in northern Asia and winter in southern Asia and are also rare vagrants in Europe, the United States, and Canada. During the breeding season, you will often find them perching on thorny bushes in open scrubland habitats. And in winter, they return to the exact location each year, typically in more tropical settings. They mainly eat insects and kill their prey by impaling them on thorns from their perches.
American Tree Sparrow
American tree sparrows are medium-sized birds native to the New World. This rotund species features a chestnut-colored cap, back, wings, and grey underparts, with a small dark spot on its chest. They have long, slim tails and short beaks, and their faces are grey with a chestnut line through their eyes.
Tree sparrows are migratory birds that breed on tundra or in boreal forests in Alaska and northern Canada. During fall, they migrate to southern Canada and the United States to spend their winters. They eat seeds, insects, and berries by foraging on the ground or in low bushes, and they are popular birds at winter feeders. The best way to attract an American tree sparrow is by throwing millet, cracked corn, and sunflower seeds on the ground or placing them in low-platform feeders.
The brown thrasher, or brown thrush, is a New World bird that belongs to the mockingbird family. These birds are reddish-brown above and buff-colored below, with dark, teardrop-shaped markings on their chest. This species has a long, rounded tail and long, downward-curved bills. Males and females look similar, and the plumage texture is the only difference between adults and juveniles.
Brown thrashers reside in the eastern and central United States and southern and central Canada. They live in many habitats, including woodland edges, thickets, agricultural fields, and suburban areas. However, they do not typically venture near homes like other species. But you may be able to coax them to your yard with dense shrubs and fruit-bearing trees.
The cedar waxwing is a medium-sized passerine bird named for its wax-like wingtips. Their plumage is a silky, shiny blend of brown, grey, and yellow, highlighted by fine white linings, bright red wax droplets, and a black face mask. They have relatively short square-tipped tails and short, broad bills.
These birds are native to North America and Central America, where they spend their springs and summers in southern Canada and winters in the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America. Their preferred habitats include forest and woodland edges near a water source and berry bushes. Cedar waxwings love fruit, so plant plenty of berry bushes around your property to attract these beautiful birds.
The house wren is a tiny bird native to the Americas and one of the most widely distributed species across both continents. This bird has many subspecies, and each one varies in appearance. Their upper parts range from grey, brown, and rufous, and their underparts are brown, buff, grey, or white.
These birds live year-round in their South American habitats. And in North America, they breed in Canada and spend winters in the United States. House wrens can be found all over, including thickets, open woods, towns, and gardens. The best way to attract these birds to your yard is by placing suet, peanut butter, and shelled peanuts in a shallow dish or tray feeder.
Summary of 12 Types Of Brown Birds
|American Tree Sparrow
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Paul Tymon/Shutterstock.com
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- Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP), Available here: https://web.archive.org/web/20170316112205/http://issg.org/database/species/reference_files/100English.pdf
- Cornell University, Available here: https://www.birds.cornell.edu