Dickcissels have a large pale bill, a yellow line over the eye, brownish upperparts with black streaks on the back, dark wings, a rust patch on the shoulder and light underparts. Adult males have a black throat patch, a yellow breast and grey cheeks and crown. This head and breast pattern is especially brilliant in the breeding plumage, making it resemble an Eastern Meadowlark. Females and juveniles are brownish on the cheeks and crown and are somewhat similar in appearance to House Sparrows; they have streaked flanks.
In flight they make a low, "electric", buzzing fpppt. From an open perch in a field, this bird's song is a sharp dick dick followed by a buzzed cissel, also transcribed as skee-dlees chis chis chis or dick dick ciss ciss ciss.