Little brown birds

It starts with a wonderful photo by Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky (on Facebook on the 23rd) of a local bird, pretty much the apotheosis of the Little Brown Bird, all brown and nondescript as it flutters around. Until you catch it in (very momentary) repose and get to examine the remarkable details of its plumage:

(#1) The California Towhee (Melozine crissalis)

From the All About Birds site:

California Towhees are essentially large sparrows, with a sparrow’s short, rounded wings, long tail, and thick, seed-cracking beak – but towhees are larger and bulkier. The long tail and short wings can give this bird an ungainly look in flight.

Few birds are as uniformly matte brown as a California Towhee, except for a rusty patch under the tail (called the crissum, giving the bird its scientific name) and around their bill. Males look the same as females

But towhees in the genus Pipilo are typically multicolored, very different in appearance from Melozine towhees.

At this point, I have so many little birds visiting my patio — lots of juncos of two species as ground feeders, house finches and oak titmice at my bird feeders — that I’m not sure if I would have noticed any California Towhees in the mix.

Other little brownish birds. There are at least two very common little birds that might be expected to turn up locally, to take advantage of the birdseed I make available. I haven’t spotted them, but then, as I say, I now have a lot of little bird visitors.

— house wrens. From Wikipedia:

(#2) The house wren (Troglodytes aedon)

Troglodytes is a genus of small passerine birds in the wren family. These wrens are around 11–13 centimetres (4.3–5.1 in) long. They are brownish above and somewhat paler below, with strong legs. Their short rounded wings and frequently cocked tail have a dark barred pattern. The flight is direct and buzzing.

Troglodytes wrens are mostly found in somewhat cooler habitats than most of their relatives. Most of the species are found in the mountains from Mexico to northern South America. Five species are found in temperate latitudes: The house wren occurs widely in both tropical and temperate lowlands, but is frequently split into several species.

— song sparrows. From Wikipedia:

(#2) (photo from the All About Birds site)

The song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) is a medium-sized American sparrow. Among the native sparrows in North America, it is easily one of the most abundant, variable and adaptable species.

… Though a habitat generalist, the song sparrow favors brushland and marshes, including salt marshes across most of Canada and the United States. They also thrive in human dominated areas such as in suburbs, agricultural fields, and along roadsides.


2 Responses to “Little brown birds”

  1. aric2014 Says:

    Troglodytes!! Not quite what I expected for that word.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      It’s all connected. From the Wikipedia page on wrens:

      The family name Troglodytidae is derived from troglodyte, which means ‘cave-dweller’. Wrens get their scientific name from the tendency of some species to forage in dark crevices.

      From NOAD:

      noun troglodyte: [a] (especially in prehistoric times) a person who lived in a cave. [b] a hermit. [c] a person who is regarded as being deliberately ignorant or old-fashioned. ORIGIN late 15th century: via Latin from Greek trōglodutēs, alteration of the name of an Ethiopian people, influenced by trōglē ‘hole’.

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