Adult upperparts are dark red-brown, with black streaks and reddish patches on the wings and shoulders. No wing bars. The head is dark gray, with a chestnut crown (brown- and black-streaked, with a gray central stripe). The tail is slightly notched and is usually not pumped up and down in flight like the song sparrow's. Underparts are unstreaked, gray, with a white throat, dark, reddish-brown sides and a dark whisker stripe. Breeding plumage is much more reddish brown, with black streaking on the head and with buffy sides. Young birds resemble the winter plumage but have a buffy eyebrow and nape and fine streaking on the breast. The song is a low, sweet trill, "tup-tup-tup-tup-tup-tup," much slower than that of a chipping sparrow. Calls are a sharp, metallic "tchip" and a "zeee," similar to those of the Lincoln's sparrow.