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Sparrows!?? Tough ID for a newb...

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Old Sunday 22nd January 2017, 03:00   #1
BodhiBird
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Sparrows!?? Tough ID for a newb...

I've spent the past couple weeks really immersing myself into birding, something I have always wanted to do and finally got the inspiration. So far it has been great and I am really enjoying successfully IDing birds - ones I've seen many times before and others I never noticed before now. However, I am still having so much trouble IDing sparrows. Even the tens of sparrows flocking to my bird feeder - spent forever watching and listening and still can't tell if they're Savannah, Field, or some other kind of sparrow. Any advice for IDing sparrows and other tiny birds? What is the best feature to pay attention to? I am trying to focus on rings around the eyes, stripes on the face, breast pattern and tails, what else do I need to spend time focusing on to successfully ID these guys? Any tips and advice would be greatly appreciated!
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Old Sunday 22nd January 2017, 03:29   #2
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Sparrows are what generates the LBJ designation afaik.
Little Brown Jobs, birds you can study for an hour and still be entirely clueless about.
Go out birding with others, bouncing birds off each other helps everyone sharpen their skills.
No royal road, just lots of practice to gradually get better. Familiarity is really the key to recognizing the new.
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Old Sunday 22nd January 2017, 05:58   #3
Sangahyando
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Originally Posted by BodhiBird View Post
Any advice for IDing sparrows and other tiny birds?
One clue to telling House Sparrows apart from the indigenous North American species is their slightly different proportions (shorter tail, heavier bill).
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Old Sunday 22nd January 2017, 07:48   #4
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Do you have a camera and a computer? If so try taking a few photos and then comparing the images to a field guide. Even pretty poor photos (take a look at some on the ID forum here!) can be used - mainly because the image isn't moving and you can check each feature against those in the guide that separate one sparrow from another. You will then know the key features to look for.

You can also just Google the name of each species in turn and study the various photo images that come up. Be careful though as not all images are correctly ID'd.

North American sparrows are not the easiest group to sort out, but they are well worth the effort.

Mick
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Old Sunday 22nd January 2017, 10:55   #5
Jim M.
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Originally Posted by BodhiBird View Post
I've spent the past couple weeks really immersing myself into birding, something I have always wanted to do and finally got the inspiration. So far it has been great and I am really enjoying successfully IDing birds - ones I've seen many times before and others I never noticed before now. However, I am still having so much trouble IDing sparrows. Even the tens of sparrows flocking to my bird feeder - spent forever watching and listening and still can't tell if they're Savannah, Field, or some other kind of sparrow. Any advice for IDing sparrows and other tiny birds? What is the best feature to pay attention to? I am trying to focus on rings around the eyes, stripes on the face, breast pattern and tails, what else do I need to spend time focusing on to successfully ID these guys? Any tips and advice would be greatly appreciated!
Do you have an actual hardcopy field guide? (i.e. not an app or internet resource). If not, you should get one. Probably the Sibley or Peterson guides to eastern birds are the best for your situation. They'll indicate the key field marks to focus on for each species. Another thing that can help is if you download a bunch of pre-identified photos of each species from a reliable site and then quiz yourself to see if you can identify them correctly. Finally, another book I highly recommend for those learning to ID birds is Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion. It is chock-full of practical tips and advice for each species that you won't find in most field guides. Here is an amazon link to the latter.

https://www.amazon.com/Dunnes-Essent...uide+companion

Last edited by Jim M. : Sunday 22nd January 2017 at 11:33.
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Old Sunday 22nd January 2017, 13:46   #6
Joyinmotion
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Thank you for the comments! I am a beginning birder, watching the birds on my patio feeder, and I have exactly the same problem. I am struggling with the little brown birds, the streaks on the wings and above eyes, etc. I am doing Project FeederWatch and these little brown birds are very hard to pin down. I can see it's a continuing learning process.
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Old Sunday 22nd January 2017, 14:33   #7
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I agree with using your resources....camera and computer, book, and local birding association. Joining your local Audubon society chapter and going out on their fieldtrips will help get you on the way of confident identification. In no way are they snobbish to new birders. Even as a visitor to an area, when I have attended Audubon fieldtrips, they have been very generous with their information.
Additional resources is Cornell University's allaboutbirds(dot)org This website has videos to aid new birders, also has a 'similar' feature on the bird page. For example, if you think you have a Savannah Sparrow, look it up there, and with the section on images, there is a side section of similar birds for consideration.
I will also add an endorsement on apps...as a supplement to the above. I primarily use an app in the field because of the 'similar' feature. First I type in what it might be, then check 'similar' option. Apps also have sound options right at your fingertips to compare to a bird currently calling. There is an app by Cornell called Merlin. It is free and designed for new birders. It works on gps and reduces the options to the most likely for location. It is not complete, but it continues to update species. I will admit I don't use it as I don't use my gps in the field, but others reslly like it. Lastly, my favourite app is IBirdPro. It costs, but I can use it on several devices, had good updates and I like the features. Latest one allows an overlay of field marks.
Sparrows may always be a challenge as they are for many of us, so don't give up. Recommendation, don't start on Fall migration warblers for a while. They are just as confusing. Spring migration warblers are a treat, however.
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