For many birders, they are part of the group of birds known affectionately known as LBJs (little brown jobs). That's because most of us recognize that the bird is a sparrow (except when it's a finch or other similar-looking bird) but are unable to tell which species of sparrow it is. Here are descriptions of some of the sparrows that are sometimes found in the Chesapeake watershed. Can you tell them apart?
1. This sparrow nests in the wetter areas of the Bay's salt marshes during the summer, and is the only sparrow to restrict itself to this watery habitat. It is olive gray with a white belly. Its facial markings include a dull yellow mustache and spot in front of its eye. It eats less seeds than most other sparrows and feeds on small crustaceans.
2. This slender (for sparrows) bird has a pink or yellowish bill and striking white and black stripes on its head. It is brown-streaked on top and dull buff below. Some of the areas it nests in include stunted, woody thickets; coastal scrub; and wet meadows. This is the bird that scientists studied to learn more about the physiology of bird migration.
3. This bird gets its name from its reddish brown plumage and tail. It is usually found in the undergrowth of forests and thickets where it makes so much noise thrashing about for insects to eat that many at first assume it is a larger bird. The male is known for his melodious song repertoire; he will sing each song once before starting over.
4. This sparrow is also known as "hairbird" because it lines its nest with any available hair. It is has even been observed plucking strands from a sleeping dog! It is brown-streaked on top with a gray face and underparts. It is found in woodland edges, pastures, parks, lawns and gardens. The male will sometimes sing at night. Its trill has been compared to a sewing machine.
5. This bird is found in the dry parts of salt marshes. The coarse grasses that grow in this habitat take their toll on the bird's feathers, and by the end of summer, its plumage looks somewhat threadbare. When the feathers grow back, this small brown sparrow has a streaked breast, white belly, yellowish-orange face and gray ear patch. This bird's name is not a clue.
6. This is the most familiar grass sparrow because it is found in many habitats, from fields and prairies to dunes and salt marshes to city parks. It is pale and streaked with yellow eyebrows, and has a notched tail. This sparrow is a good runner, and if flushed out, will dart through the grass like a mouse to escape.
2. White-crowned sparrow
3. Fox sparrow
4. Chipping sparrow
5. Sharp-tailed sparrow
6. Savannah sparrow