Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sparrows, aka LBJ's

Ah, what a boring topic to choose for a blog, as many people will think.  This group of birds is one of the least interesting and least colorful for many a novice birder and many times are ignored because of the difficulty in identification.  In the book, The Big Year, they are also referred to as LBJ's, those 'Little Brown Jobbies'.  While I am far from being an expert on sparrows, I was going through my old photo files and discovered that I had actually captured many photos of some of the more than 30 species found in the United States.  Still does not make me an expert, but I have found that trying to identify them requires much more than just visual looks.  Habitat, behavior and song play a big role and one always has to keep in mind the range maps in most guides.  Obviously birds don't read maps and will sometimes show up in the most unlikely places, but it is rare.  The sparrow family is quite large and in many cases, some of the species have sub-species and I suppose it is possible that someday some of those sub-species may be split off into separate species of their own.  I am not going to expand on how to identify each species as there are wonderful guides already written by many experts in the avian world that do much more justice than what I could ever begin to do.  What I have decided, is to try and post some photos of some of the Sparrows that I have been able to capture in photos.  I think that once you look at these photos, most people will agree that some of these Sparrows are quite attractive and distinct.  Just remember that not all the sparrows found in the US are depicted in the photos below.  I am only posting those that I have captured in photos.  Not all of the photos are of the quality I wish I would have captured, but they are good enough to identify the species of the bird and show off some of their true markings.  That gives me incentive to try for somthing better the next time I run across one of them!

Let's start off with a species that consists of more than one sub-species, a White-crowned Sparrow.  Below are photos of the sub-species gambelii and oriantha.  Very similar, but also very different once you look at the photos.  Check out the striping on the head and also the color of the beaks. 

White-crowned Sparrow-gambelii

White-crowned Sparrow-orientha

The White-throated Sparrow is a bit similar to the White-crowned and sometimes mixes in with White-crowns and is often overlooked by novice birders.

White-throated Sparrow
Next are photos of a Rufous-winged Sparrow and a Rufous-crowned Sparrow.
Rufous-winged Sparrow

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Next we have a Black-throated Sparrow, a Black-chinned Sparrow, and a Sage Sparrow.  The Black-throated is one of my favorite sparrows; handsome little birds!  Sage Sparrow is not too bad either!
Black-throated Sparrow

Black-chinned Sparrow

Sage Sparrow
The next 3 in the lineup are the Baird's Sparrow, the Grasshopper Sparrow, and a Savannah Sparrow.  Savannah is one that has sub-species and not all Savannah's will look like this photo.
Baird's Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow
These next 4 consist of the Chipping Sparrow, Brewer's Sparrow, Song Sparrow, and Lincoln's Sparrow.  The Song Sparrow is found pretty much throughout the United States, but can look very different from one area of the country to another.
Chipping Sparrow

Brewer's Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

The last 3 Sparrows being represented include Lark Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow and finally the Fox Sparrow.  The Fox Sparrow is found in at least 3 color phases, of which I have 2 of them in photos. 

Lark Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Fox Sparrow--"Red"

Fox Sparrow--"Slate-colored"

These photos represent about half of the sparrow species found in the United States.  Birders should not be intimidated by the identification of this group of birds.  The more one sees them in the field and in their habitats, the more you learn about identification.  No, it is not always easy, but this is a group of birds that is challenging and when one does get past the stage of intimidation, they are quite interesting birds to observe and can be a lot of fun.  I will continue to seek out more of these LBJ's and hopefully capture some more future photos of more of them.  



  1. Love the Sparrows Gordon, one of my favorite groups! Great catalogue you've got here, I hope you complete it soon!

  2. Have long way to go to 'complete' the list. With luck I hope to add a few more AZ species to my list; foremost is a Five-striped Sparrow with a Cassin's and Botteri's right behind. And if I get real lucky, I might get the Clay-colored, Golden-crowned and Swamp Sparrows here in AZ. Will probably have to go searching elsewhere for some of the others. The more I see them, the better I get with identification. It's a never ending challenge. Thanks for the comments!

  3. Wonderful photos! Thank you for sharing them. :)