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Monday, March 5, 2012

Little Brown Jobs

Little Brown Jobs or LBJ's are known throughout the ornithological community as birds that are difficult to identify and typically include: sparrows, wrens, finches, or warblers.  We will concentrate solely on sparrows and then have you see if you can identify the LBJ in the photograph below.  

How to Identify Sparrows by Markings

The easiest way to identify these small, active birds is by their field markings. Though they’re not always clearly visible, most sparrows have at least one strong field mark unique from other sparrow species.  Ask yourself the following questions about identification:
  • Head: Is the head smooth and flat, or does it have a small crest? Are there stripes or markings on the crown, eyebrow, cheek, chin or throat? Does the bird have a noticeable eye ring?
  • Tail: Is the tail long or short? Are there distinguishable markings on the tail?
  • Underparts: Does the birds chest have any markings? Are they in a distinguishable pattern or random?
  • Wings: Is there barring or other distinguishable markings on the wings? If barring is present, is it narrow or wide?
  • Bill: Note the size of the bill in relation to the birds head.  Notice whether the color of the bill and if the top and bottom have the same color.

Other Ways to Identify Sparrows

 You may not be able to get a good look at the sparrows to see distinguishable markings, so you may have to rely on one of the following keys to identification.
  • Range and Habitat: Each sparrow has a habitat that it prefers, noting habitat can help to narrow down the choices.
  • Song: If you are not an expert birder, try to remember the song that you hear and listen to recordings to match up what you heard to identify the bird.  Cornell, and iTunes both have a fairly comprehensive library of bird sounds.  There are also a few good apps for your smart phone if you search around.
  • Behavior: Are the birds solitary or moving in flocks? Are they shy or fairly open about interaction with you as the birdwatcher?  This is another key that can help to I.D. the bird. 
I find that spending time getting familiar with the sparrows in your area is a great start to identification.  Investing in a good field guide is the first start on your way to identification.  Lastly, if you aren't able to ID the bird, that's OK.  The more practice you have, the better you will get and even experts make mistakes sometimes! I am a fairly novice birder, and couldn't have been more excited the day that a more experience birder thought that a dove was a kestrel--granted we were quite far away from it, and it was only a glimpse, but it gave me hope for the future!!

Hope you can identify the bird I saw at SWP on February 28 from the above photograph.  I found this bird perched on the brushy edge between the meadow and a small creek but in fairly open habitat.  

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