Vina Spizellas

1 02 2021
Brewer’s Sparrow (background) and Clay-colored Sparrow (foreground) – Luke Tiller

It was nice to run into three different species of spizella sparrows at Vina Vieja today and even nicer to have the two pale lored ones give me nice comparison looks in the same binocular view. I was going to say that I think this is an underappreciated ID challenge, but I think most people know it’s pretty tough.

Anyway a few things quickly jump out at me. The first is the much more obvious overall dingy and drab aspect of the Brewer’s compared to the Clay-colored. Also notable is the overall whiteness of Clay-colored Sparrow both in the ground coloration of the breast and the supercilium and submoustacial. Also notable is the much warmer tones of the auricular area. You’ll also note that the Clay-colored has a very well defined median crown stripe too where the Brewer’s has none (sparrow face topography here).

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Brewer’s Sparrow (background) and Clay-colored Sparrow (foreground) – Luke Tiller

These individual birds struck me as pretty obvious examples thankfully, but these features can often be more intermediate. Things that are less helpful to me are the supposed streakiness of Brewer’s Sparrows napes and the lack of contrast in the face pattern. I find Brewer’s often look quite contrasty on the head. I’m not sure I find bill size that useful either, though all three features are mentioned in field guides.

Anyway, the best way to deal with any tricky ID is to spend time watching them and getting some photos to help confirmations and comparisons. Vina is a often a great spot for this and I’m looking forward to writing the location up for an updated guide to birding sites in the greater Pasadena area which Pasadena Audubon Society are undertaking.

Clay-colored Sparrow – Luke Tiller

Here are a few more spizellas from Vina Vieja and nearby spots over the years (here).


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