Sparrows Are Hard

More than once, WC and Mrs. WC – the real birder in the household – have stared at a Little Brown Job, the birder slang for a nondescript sparrow, with one or more field guides in hand, and ended up completely stumped on the identification. Sparrows are hard.

To illustrate WC’s pont – and possibly offer further proof of WC’s dubious bird ID Skills – here are four sparrows from WC’s recent trip to southeastern Arizona, with accompanying tentative identifications and notes. WC invites his birder buddies to offer their critiques and comments.

chsp20170304-1600 Probably a Chipping Sparrow. The chestnut cap, the distinct white eyebrow and the black line that extends all the way through the lores to the base of the bill. There’s no moustachial stripe, and the rump is an unstreaked gray.
rwsp20170228-1600 Probably a Rufous-winged Sparrow. The two blackish stripes on the sides of the face, the pale rufous crown is streaked with greyish-black, and the chest is unmarked. Still, it’s hard to be certain. The tiny rufous patch on the lesser coverts is pretty clear.
btsp20170304-1600 Almost certainly a Black-throated Sparrow. The triangular black throat, prominent on the pale grey chest, the white eyebrow and white sub-moustchial stripe are pretty definitive.
ccsp20170304-1600 Possibly a Clay-colored Sparrow. On the one hand, the cap is just right: a blackish-streaked crown with a distinct pale median stripe. On the other hand, that’s a pretty dark eye stripe. The heavy streaking on the bird’s chest suggests a sub-adult bird.
vesp20170304-1600 Probably a Vesper Sparrow. There’s a strong white eye ring, and a darker ear patch bordered by paler grey-white. The small chestnut coverts – usually concealed – are a pretty good field mark.

But sparrows are hard. So feel free to comment.