For the Birds: Little Brown Jobs

Monday, May 29, 2017

Savannah Sparrow
Photo by John Riegsecker

Little Brown Jobs                                 
by Christine Southwick

In the bird world, there are lots of brown-colored birds. These birds are usually briefly seen on or near the ground, making it hard to identify them without longer observation. Consequently many people in the birding community call these birds, “little brown job-ies”, or LJB’s.

Why so many brown, either striped or spotted brown birds do you ask?

Lincoln's Sparrow Photo by Barry Ulman
Camouflage! Most of our brown birds skulk in grasses or under bushes — where they blend right into the background.

Song Sparrows are the quintessential local, year-round brown bird, and if your yard has bushes, you probably have some.

Shoreline has many others:
Savannah Sparrows, Lincoln Sparrows, House Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Swainson’s Thrushes, and Hermit Thrushes.

Most of these either just pass through during migration, or are commonly seen only in the summer. Our wintry-local Fox Sparrows are the darker Sooty Fox Sparrows which helps them blend into the darker brushy understory that they prefer.

Chipping Sparrow Photo by Jane Hadley

Most fledgling ground birds start out stripy-brown to help their survival odds: Spotted Towhees, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows can all be hard to distinguish one species from another until they start getting their first-winter body feathers.

They all have stripy breasts, are smaller than robins, and don’t look like their adults.

So how does a person learn to identify one from another?

First thing to do is look at bird books. There are lots of good bird-ID books. For beginners, I recommend local regional books.

Juvie Dark-eyed Junco
Photo by Christine Southwick
It is too confusing to look for a bird that you thought you saw, and then look at the map for that bird, and find that it is usually east of the Mississippi River.

That being said, I still recommend Kaufman’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America for beginners — lots of great beginner tips.

Sibley Guide to Western Birds may be all you need for the western United States, but if you become like most birders, you will keep looking for that next book, that potentially favorite one.

There are several books about local birds, and the best place to find that book that suits you is either the Seattle Audubon store on 35th NE, or Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.

The best lure for birds is dripping water. To keep them healthy, make sure you are not using pesticides or herbicides — poisoned bugs and plants will kill yard birds and their babies too.


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