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April 11, 2017 > Little brown birds

Little brown birds

By Pat Kite

People ask me to name the little brown birds that inhabit their yards. Here are some hints:

The most common are the house finches. This is a small, sparrow-size bird. At this time of year, the male, with his red cap and chest, is showing his breeding colors. The female, however, is plain, a little brown bird. The ladies are often seen near the gentlemen. They usually have about four eggs, bluish-white with speckles. When the young hatch, both parents babysit. House finches can nest almost any place, but are usually found around buildings and in trees, shrubs, tree cavities, and even the old nests of other birds. Latin name: Carpodacus mexicanus

About the same size is the house sparrow.ÊIn springtime, the male has a black mask and a chestnut colored cap. Its back is a mix of dark and light brown feathers, while its underneath is sort of grayish. The female is plain brown bird with grayish under parts. They make nests of straw, weeds, trash, grass, feathers. Nest can be almost any place, and the birds will nest in birdhouses. Competes with other birds for nest sites. Eggs are light green or whitish with possible speckling. Young eat insects brought by both parents. Latin name:ÊPasser domesticus.

Another common local visitor is the white-crowned sparrow. It gets its name from the white stripe on its head. According to pictures, it has a black and white stripe on its head, but I usually just see a white stripe. It is mostly medium brownish otherwise, with pale brown-grey undersides. The female is a little brown bird. This sparrow primarily feeds on the ground, and is often seen below bird feeders. It scratches the earth with both feet, looking for seeds and insects. It nests fairly near the ground. Females may make a second nest after young leave. Egg colors vary, and include pale blue with speckles. Latin name:ÊZonotrichia leucophrys.

If you are looking for a white head stripe, and see a dull gold head stripe, this can be the golden-crowned sparrow. It often hangs around with the white-crowned group. It feeds on or near the ground on seeds, insects, leaves, etc. Makes a cup-shaped nest on the ground at the base of a small shrub or under overhanging plants. Has a longer tail than female house sparrow. Latin name: Zonotrichia atricapilla.

A larger brown bird is the California towhee (formerly the brown towhee.]
This is medium brown with a pale orange-red chest. It stays near the ground scratching vigorously for seeds, insects, and bird-feeder offerings. Males and females look rather alike, and often are seen in pairs. The towhees nest in a small tree or shrub. Latin name:ÊPipilo crissalis.

The tiny buff-colored birds are bushtits. They come in chatty groups and are the cutest.ÊThey eat aphids, bugs, and seeds. Their tiny nests are attached to twigs by spiderÕs silk. Latin name: Psaltriparus minimus.

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