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Sparrow Facial Feature Terminology post is geared towards specifing the different features among facial patterns in North American Sparrows in particular. These terms vary across and throughout, but here I will lay out what I have adopted for use based around extensive interactions with ornithologist and birders of all experience. I have personally found them to be a balance of both technical, and easy to understand.

1. Supercilium (Eyebrow)
This group of feathers extends from the base of the bill above the lores (#3) all the way back to the nape (#8). Contrastingly light in some species while streaked or blended in others. 

2. Supraloral 
The beginning portion of the supercilium just above the lores (#3) in front of the eye. This is the area that is typically yellow in Savannah and White-throated Sparrows

3. Lores
The group of feathers just in front of the eye. Examples of species with dark/shaded lores or a “loral line” would be Chipping, Olive, and Rufous-winged Sparrows. Sometimes this area is fully shaded back to, and somewhat around, the eye to form a “loral mask” as in the Pink-sided Dark-eyed Junco.

4. Throat
Centered in the middle, pretty self explanatory. Plain light color in many, lightly streaked or solid dark colored in many others. 

5. Lateral Throat Stripe
The divider between the throat (#4) and the malar (#6). Many species show little or no prominent lateral throat stripes; such as Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos, while some show thin ones; like Rufous-crowned and Henslow’s Sparrow, and others very thick marks like in Song and Savannah Sparrows.

6. Malar
This group runs from the base of the bill along side the bottom of the cheek and is bordered on the other side by the lateral throat stripes (#5). Often only partially solid in color with streaks obscuring the rear like in Song Sparrows, but sometimes extending further back and hooking around the cheek like in Vesper Sparrows.

7. Subauricular Stripe
Not a distinct group but actually the outer edge of the auricular patch (cheek). It is darkly colored in some species and can either be separate from or connected to the bill.

8. Nape 
The back and (for the sake of simplicity) often the sides of the neck. Clean gray in some species like Clay-colored and heavily streaked in others like Savannah. 

9. Lateral Crown Stripe
This group runs parallel next to the inside of the supercilium. Each are separated from one another by a variable median crown stripe in many, but may all blend together to form one solid crown color in others. 

Other Features Not Numbered

Auricular Patch or Auriculars - As mentioned above the group of feathers that are commonly known as the cheek are referred to as the auricular or auricular patch. Helpful in separating some Spizella genus sparrows but typically not referenced. 

Median Crown Stripe - The stripe that runs down the center of the crown. Non contrasting (seemingly absent) in some species. Wide to thin in others. 

Upper and Lower Mandibles - Referencing the upper and lower halves of the bill respectively. Bill size and shape can be helpful with a bit of practice. 

Culmen - The top (highest point) ridge of the tip of the upper mandible. Straight vs curved is the most common reference. 

Illustration by Joe Brewer


  1. Joecoolbrew, thank you for these Identification articles. I printed them, and I'm sure they will be helpful to me. I appreciate your sharing this information.


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