There are seriously well-versed birders in Central Park; I am not one. I have however learned that, when faced with a small bird of unknown ID, it can be properly termed an “LBJ” or “little brown job”. Those in the know rarely have to resort to that appellation. Nonetheless there are a confusing number of sparrows that, for most of us, will always be LBJs.
In the US, there are at least 25 distinct kinds of sparrows. Birds are distinguished by what are termed “diagnostic” markings (or behaviors) and those associated with sparrows typically include streaking (or absence of streaking) on the breast; bands over or under the eyes; coloration of the throat, bill and crown; rings around the eyes; bars on the wings, etc. (A convincing birder can claim to accurately distinguish these marks on a target diving through the shadows at 50 yards. Remain skeptical.)
Further complicating identifications is the fact that coloration often differs markedly between males and females, between spring and autumn seasons and simply at whim, e.g., some house sparrows, unlike the one shown above, sport a black throat.
Whole books are devoted to sparrow identification. Don’t be discouraged; just enjoy them. Many will stay with us through the winter; they are tough little birds.
Opening photo: Fox Sparrow
All photos by Fred R. Cohen. See more of his work on his website.