Pine Siskin Vs. Sparrow: 15 Comparisons


Pine siskins and sparrows are types of birds that are very small and usually dull brown or gray in color. But at a quick glance, they may be hard to tell apart.

However, there are many differences between the two birds. For instance, they have distinctions ranging from their size to their native habitats, to the sounds they make.

But there are also a few similarities as well, in their diets, eggs, and beaks.

Pine siskins and sparrows are close in size, but sparrows tend to be larger. They also live all around the world, while pine siskins are a North American species. Though both are mainly brown and gray, pine siskins have yellow edges on their feathers that sparrows lack. They each build different types of nests but have similar-looking eggs.

Comparison: Pine Siskin Vs. Sparrow

Use the below guide to learn what pine siskins and sparrows have in common, and what makes them different.

TraitsPine SiskinSparrow
ClassificationSpinus pinus – Fringillidae familyPasser domesticus – Passeridae family
Native Geographical RangeNorth AmericaAsia, Europe, northern Africa (now spread worldwide)
Natural HabitatOpen forests, grasslands, meadowsOpen fields and plains, not often found in forests
Size And Weight4.3-5.5 inches, 0.4-0.6 ounces5.9-6.7 inches, 0.9-1.1 ounces
PlumageStreaky brown and gray with bright yellow edges on wings and tailBrown and gray, red or gray heads, white cheeks, black bib
Wingspan7.1-8.7 inches9.8 inches
CallsFast, nasally tweetsSlower, more simple chirrups
Lifespan (oldest known specimen)9 years, 2 months15 years, 9 months
Social BehaviorGenial, live in loose coloniesAggressive towards other species
NestingCup nests, 1-2 broods per yearCavity nests, 1-4 broods per year
Body Type9 wing flight feathers10 wing flight feathers, extra tongue bone
Conservation StatusLow conservation concernCommon bird but in steep decline
Eggs And NestlingsBrown-spotted eggs between 0.4-0.6 inches wide, usually blue-greenBrown-spotted eggs between 0.4-0.6 inches wide, usually white or bluish-white
DietSeeds, nuts, insectsSeeds, nuts, insects
BeaksHeavy, conical beaks for breaking open seedsRound heavy beaks used to break open seeds

*Data in the table was sourced from scientific publications, veterinary websites, magazines, almanacs, and other official sources cited throughout this article. For comparison purposes, the sparrows used for comparison in this article are house sparrows (Passer domesticus), which is the most widespread sparrow species.

12 Differences Between Pine Siskins And Sparrows

1. Classification

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Pine siskins (Spinus pinus) are actually goldfinches, in the family Fringillidae. They are one of over 200 “true finches.”

Other birds in different families may commonly be called finches, but they are not scientifically related.

Then there are house sparrows (Passer domesticus), which are part of the Passeridae family, or “Old World” sparrows. There is also a family of “New World” sparrows, Passerellidae, but they aren’t actually related to Passeridae members.

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Voyagers to the parts of the New World, such as North America, are the ones who called these birds sparrows. They thought the birds bore a passing resemblance to the true sparrows of their continents.

Old World sparrows like house sparrows are also known as “true” sparrows.

2. Native Geographical Range

Pine siskins are exclusive to North America. They can be seen from the northwestern-most tip of Canada all the way down to the middle of Mexico. They are much scarcer in the eastern United States, however.

House sparrows are native to Asia, Europe, and northern Africa. However, humans have introduced them almost all over the world to varying degrees. They are now the most widespread bird species around the world.

3. Natural Habitat

Another significant difference between pine siskins and sparrows is their choice of habitat. Birds are obviously associated with living in trees, and that’s where the pine siskin makes its home.

So, they like open forests of coniferous or mixed trees. In addition, they’ll sometimes forage for food in grasslands and meadows.

But for true sparrows, the open fields and plains are where they feel most comfortable. They don’t often live in forests, instead preferring swamps, savannas, and even rocky areas like cliff sides.

4. Size And Weight

Although both types of birds are small, most sparrows are larger than pine siskins. The average pine siskin is between 4.3-5.5 inches long (11-14 cm), weighing between 0.4-0.6 ounces (12-18 g). 

House sparrows are between 5.9-6.7 inches (15-17 cm) and weigh 0.9-1.1 ounces (27-30 g). In other words, they’re nearly twice as heavy as pine siskins.

5. Plumage Colors

Sparrows and pine siskins do have very similar coloring, but with one major difference.

The pine siskin’s coloring is a much more streaky brown and gray than many sparrows. They also have a bright yellow edge to their wings and tails.

Most true sparrows have simple brown and gray coloring with a more even distribution. They don’t often have other colors on their feathers.

House sparrows are an exception, although they still don’t have a color as vibrant as the siskin’s yellow.

Male house sparrows can have rusty red or gray heads, white cheeks, and a black bib on their neck. Their necks may also be a rusty red shade.

Females tend to be buff-brown all over, though, with dingy gray or brown undersides.

6. Wingspan

A pine siskin’s wingspan can be between 7.1 and 8.7 inches (18-22 cm). That’s almost twice its body length.

In contrast, house sparrows can have slightly larger wingspans. They can spread their wings up to 9.8 inches (25 cm).

7. Calls

You can tell the difference between a pine siskin and a house sparrow by their calls.

A pine siskin has a very rapid, almost nasal tweeting call, which you can listen to here. It’s very frenetic, but sometimes siskin’s use one longer tweet in the middle. 

A house sparrow, on the other hand, sounds a little calmer, using short “chirrup” sounds. They tend to be less complicated than pine siskin calls. Listen to some examples here.

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8. Lifespan

Although there isn’t much data on the lifespans of these birds, the house sparrow may have a slightly longer lifespan.

The oldest known house sparrow was 15 years and 9 months old when she was found in Texas. The oldest known pine siskin, however, was only nine years and two months old, found in Minnesota.

9. Social Behaviors

Pine siskins are known to be genial birds, nesting in loose colonies and flocking together for food. They can become aggressive during the winter, but usually just for food rather than whole territories.

House sparrows are much more aggressive towards other birds, although they’re social amongst themselves. In fact, they are considered an invasive species and can pose a threat to native birds.

House sparrows will bully other birds away from feeders. They can also take over nesting areas from native birds. This sometimes leads to them injuring or outright killing the other birds in the process.

Between male and female house sparrows, their power balance shifts with the seasons. For instance, In fall and winter, males in the flocks will dominate over the females.

But come spring and summer, the females assert their dominance again.

10. Nesting

House sparrows are very adaptable birds and will nest in holes wherever they can find them, including man-made structures.

Their nests are usually dried grasses and other vegetation that they stuff into their chosen nest cavities. Then they’ll use more delicate materials like string or feathers to line the nest. 

The nest will usually have one to eight eggs for each clutch of the season. And each year, a house sparrow can have one to four broods. 

Pine siskins, on the other hand, are slightly less prolific. Each year they lay one to two broods, each with three to five eggs.

Female siskins will remain in their nests during brooding, while the male provides food for her.

Their nests are usually at the end of branches of conifer trees, usually about midway up the tree. This offers them coverage from both predators and the elements.

Instead of being cavity nesters, siskins make cup nests of grasses, bark, moss, and leaves.

The males sometimes help add base materials. Then, the female lines the nest with more moss or fur and feathers.

11. Body Types

All finches, including pine siskins, all have exactly 9 wing flight feathers and 12 tail flight feathers. It’s one of the defining traits of the Fringilllidae family.

Most passerines also have 12 flight feathers on their tail. This includes the house sparrow. However, they also usually have ten wing flight feathers (remiges).

Another difference between house sparrows and pine siskins is their tongues. House sparrows, like most passerines, have a special bone in their tongue. This helps them move seeds around in their mouth and hold them in position as they husk them.

12. Conservation Status

Neither house sparrows nor pine siskins are currently in real danger, but pine siskins are a little worse off. They are considered a “Common Bird in Steep Decline,” meaning their numbers are high but steadily decreasing.

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On the Continental Concern Scale, pine siskins rate a 10 out of 20. House sparrows, on the other hand, are a 9 out of 20, meaning they’re less vulnerable. This score puts them at a “low conservation concern.”

3 Similarities Between Pine Siskins And Sparrows

1. Eggs And Nestlings

All birds lay eggs, but they come in a variety of sizes and colors.

The eggs of a house sparrow and a pine siskin are pretty similar in appearance. They both lay eggs that are between 0.4-.06 inches wide (1.4-1.6 cm).

They also both have spots on their eggs, usually reddish brown. Each species can have other colored spots as well.

It takes about two weeks for house sparrows and pine siskins to incubate their eggs. The young of both species are born with their eyes closed and spend about two more weeks in the nest.

2. Diet

Many birds are omnivores, eating both plant matter and insects as part of their diets. Fruit such as berries is very common, but neither house sparrows nor pine siskins usually eat berries.

Instead, they focus on nuts and seeds, using their stout beaks to crack them open. They typically catch insects while flying through the air. Backyard birders can attract sparrows and siskins with feeders.

3. Beaks

Pine siskins and other finches are known for their round, heavy beaks they use to crack open seeds and nuts. 

House sparrows also have round beaks; in fact, they’re noticeably stouter than most other Old World sparrow beaks. When they can’t manage to crack open larger seeds, they’ll scavenge those that larger birds leave behind.

To End

The easiest way to tell apart a pine siskin and a house sparrow is their coloring. Pine siskins will show flashes of yellow on their wings and tails that sparrows don’t have. But house sparrows have rusty red heads, white chests, and black bibs. Pine siskins don’t have any of those colors.

You can also tell them apart by their calls, or even their nests. It’s also important to remember that pine siskins are only in North America. If you’re in Europe or Africa, you’re seeing a house sparrow, not a siskin.

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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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