Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Mystery of the Little Brown Jobbie

I have a bird feeder and some spilled seed on the deck of our new house, and I've been enjoying seeing what kinds of birds show up.

Taking photos helps me identify some of the birds, because many are what my ornithology professor used to call LBJs (Little Brown Jobbies) since they all kinda look the same and can be difficult to identify.

By far the most common visitor is Cassin's finches:

We get pretty little lesser goldfinches (green-backed form):

 Oregon juncos, which seem to be more a winter bird:

Evening grosbeak:

And sometimes a bunch of Steller's jays show up and dominate the scene.

Just today we had some lovely new visitors, lazuli buntings! Gorgeous little things.

Here's another new arrival just today, an LBJ with a very striped head:

I'm thinking it's a white-crowned sparrow.

But oddly, it was this drab brown bird that had me most puzzled.

Earlier, readers had corrected my mis-identification of this bird (which at first I thought was a song sparrow) as a pine siskin, but that  just didn't sit well with me. I knew pine siskins had dull yellow on their wing tips and tail, and come what may I could never see any yellow on these birds. And they were at the feeder all the time. They were as common as Cassin's finches.

Then just this morning, a tiny LBJ – significantly smaller than our mystery bird pictured above – showed up at the feeder. Whatddaya know, it had yellow on its wing tips and tail. Hallelujah, pine siskins! Lots of them.

Look at the size difference between the petite pine siskin (at bottom) and our mystery LBJ (at top):

I finally had a head-clunk moment. The mystery LBJs – which were as common as Cassin's finches – were ... Cassin's finches! Females, that is. Facepalm, why did it take me that long to realize it?

Now I'll be able to sleep at night.


  1. lol - Sometimes it takes us a while.

  2. Pine siskins have made their way all the way down to Texas this spring. They're bringing salmonella with them and many birders here are having to pull down all their feeders. I know they're "supposed" to be up near you rather than here in Texas, but I thought this article might be of interest.

    1. I had read similar articles and was going to comment about it. It is primarily in the northwest but there are recommendations to take feeders down everywhere this year because they are making their way all the way south.

  3. I had no trouble identifying the six birds that came to roost in the walnut tree on the corner of my yard. They were buzzards. When I think about all the trouble E. A. Poe had from just one raven...............

  4. My mother used to refer to LBJ's as 'sputzies"...don't know why!

  5. Probably the most numerous birds on the planet, often referred to as Sparrows, finches & numerous other names, they were always known to me as LBJ birds, (I'm guessing after president LBJ & his wife mate "Ladybird") or more affectionately, "Little Brown Jobs"..

  6. I'm SO jealous. We lived in Boise, Idaho for 3 1/2 years and we tried unsuccessfully to see Stellar Jays in our travels. We are now in Florida and of course, no Stellar Jays, but we do have our Cardinals and Blue Jays back....kudos to you knowing so many bird species!!