Less colorful birds visiting feeders

Little brown birds. Often sparrows and finches are called little brown birds because they look similar at first glance. Their markings may not be as distinct as chickadees and juncos but after watching them at the bird feeder for awhile and consulting a bird identification book, one can determine what species is visiting.

American goldfinches and pine siskins

American goldfinches and pine siskins

Certain birds tend to frequent bird feeders in winter more often than others. During this three-week series, I’ll help you identify some of the more common birds at your feeder. All of the following birds have been attracted to sunflower seeds.

Pine siskin

These brown and yellow birds may visit your feeder one year and not the next. They wander in response to seed crops which makes them an irruptive species.

Pine siskins are brown, streaky birds with subtle yellow edging on their wings and tails. They come in flocks and twitter constantly.

While they particularly like thistle seed at feeders they also eat sunflower seeds. Away from the feeder they eat seeds from conifers, deciduous trees and other plants. They prefer smaller seeds without tough shells and often scavenge under feeders for fragments of larger seeds left by other birds.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Sparrows can be a challenge to identify because they look similar at first. The song sparrow is one of the most familiar North American sparrows.

Song sparrows have a slaty gray and red brown striped head with a streaky brown body. Their white chest and flanks exhibit thick streaks. Song sparrows in the Pacific Northwest are darker and more heavily streaked then elsewhere.

In the fall, juvenile song sparrows band together to form flocks.

House finch

The rosy red face, upper breast and rump help identify the male house finch. The rest of the bird is streaky brown and cream.

If you notice a male house finch at your feeder, a female may be hanging around. Females don’t have red coloring and are plain grayish-brown with streaks.

Male and female house finch

Male and female house finch

House finches tend to gather at feeders or nearby trees in large flocks, often taking over the feeder as they sit and shell the seeds right there.

American goldfinch

In the winter, the male American goldfinch isn’t as vibrantly-colored as in the summer. Instead both the male and female are a dull yellow with blackish wings and two pale wingbars.

Goldfinches lack a streaking pattern which is one way to tell them apart from pine siskins. Goldfinches, pine siskins and common redpolls often flock together.

Goldfinches are strictly vegetarian and eat a variety of seeds–mainly sunflower and thistle seeds from feeders or the ground below feeders.

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