Thursday, April 9, 2009

Bird #1 and Bird #2

Male House Sparrow in breeding plumage--not always this bright.In non-breeding plumage the brown is duller and the bill is lighter. Less black in the bib. This aggressive invader was purposely introduced in the 1800s. (OC Birder Girl Picture)

I received a question about a bird identification.


"Hello, I live in South Orange County (Laguna Niguel). I am now taking up the hobby of feeding birds.There are a couple of birds I'd like to know what they are."

Female House Sparrow--No streaking on chest. (OC Birder Girl Picture)

"1. One bird is a little bit larger than a House Finch, is a dull brown color, and likes to forage on the ground. When he is at the feeder, I notice he scratches some of the seed off so it goes to the ground. He seems to be on the aggressive side. When I opened the door to go outside, he was nearby, jumped on a fence but didn't fly away."

Black Phoebe--Sayornis nigricans is a native species. (OC Birder Girl picture)

"2. The other bird is a cute little black and gray one. He's black on top, and seems to be gray on the underside. Flat on the head. He makes a cute little peep and flits from here to there.If you can ID these birds for me I'd appreciate it. I just taken up bird feeding and am curious on what species they are. "


Hmmmm. Well, hard to tell without a picture, and I could be wrong, but I would say that bird #1 might be a House Sparrow (not finch), and bird #2 might be a Black Phoebe, but a Black Phoebe is white below. If I saw a picture, I could tell you for sure. If you have one up on Flicker, you can send me the link and I will look at it and tell you.

The slightly larger House Sparrows are very aggressive and depending on the season may be dull brown, and the females are very like most sparrows and finches. Drab brown but unlike most sparrows the House Sparrow female is not streaked. The House Sparrow aka English Sparrow is an alien species that nests in cavities in trees and in houses and in street signs that are double. In other words, wherever they can. I often used to see their nesting material hanging out of street signs in the San Fernando Valley. House Sparrows endanger other birds like Western Blue Birds and Swallows who also nest in cavities. They compete for nesting cavities, and they kill others species they think might be competition or just happen to be near by. They are often called "The McDonald's Bird" because they are often seen at McDonald's and other fast food or outdoor restaurants begging for food. They can be quite tame and often aren't afraid of humans. FYI if you love native birds, don't feed these aggressive birds. They like a lot of the cheaper seeds like millet. See the section on Feeding in the Silias site below.

The Black Phoebe is a flycatcher. It flies out and back catching flying bugs. It makes a "cheep" call sound. It is a cute little bird and there are more in Orange County than any other county in the United States. They can easily be seen in Huntington Central Park and other parks in the area, but are also found in local yards. Every home seems to have one.

To read about House Sparrows, check out these two links All About Birds: House Sparrow and BirdWeb: House Sparrow. This Bluebird site deals extensively with getting rid of House Sparrows: Sialis: Managing House Sparrows. This site has a lot of information about the history of the House Sparrow and its release in the 1800s.

Good Luck with feeding the birds, and thank you for your question.

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GinaM said...

I did a little research myself and found the Black Phoebe (cute little bird), but the other brown bird I asked about is definitely NOT a house sparrow.

The brown bird in question is larger than a sparrow, about the size of a mockingbird, with a long tail and long legs. He is not afraid of me but will take off if I get too close. He will scare the other house finches away from the feeder. Any clue as to what it is? If I can get my camera I will take a picture of it. Thanks, Gina

Orange County Birder Girl said...

Without a picture it is pretty difficult, but some birds about that size and personality are the Western Scrub Jay and Great-tailed Grackles. European Starlings are aggressive and loud, but no long tail. California Towhees feed on the ground and have many of the characteristics you mention, but are usually shy, not aggressive. I suggest you take a look at a birding field guide and look for the bird you are seeing. Wildbird Unlimited has guidebooks. Check for a location near you at Or go to the Audubon House at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine. They have guidebooks and a small reference library. Find information on the wildlife sanctuary here the Crystal Cove site has a lot of pictures of the birds found there and that might be helpful. Good Luck, Gina, and thanks for your question.