ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Little Brown Birds - Bare Identification Skills Needed

Updated on July 5, 2015
Sherry Thornburg profile image

Writer, photographer and birding enthusiast, Sherry Thornburg writes about birding and birding related topics.

“What does LBB mean?” I asked in a bird forum once.

It’s an acronym for little brown birds. Mostly we are talking passerines, not water birds. They include all the non-descript females, sparrows and others that get put in the shade by their more colorful and showy feathered kin. LBBs are important, just not the attention getters. Yet, as one becomes more interested in bird identification, knowing your LBBs or at least knowing how to distinguish various groups of them, becomes more and more important.

When faced with an unfamiliar bird, the first thought is usually, what color is it. That's not very helpful when you are looking at a streaked brown bird. You need to go back to bare basics of identification. Yes, that means the bare bird. Disassociating a bird from its feathers is hard to do, but it will keep you from posting a picture of a yellow finch only to be gently corrected by others that you had a yellow warbler. In that case the quick identifier was the beak. Size also matters as well as body shape and who else the bird is with and where.

House Finch and his Mrs. LLB

Identifying by Association
Identifying by Association | Source

LBB ID by Association

This is the simplist down and dirty way to get a quick ID. If you see an LBB look around for companions. I caught one little LBB on the hook of my feeder one day. It was just a streaked brown bird, kind of blended into the fence when I first saw it. As I was catching shots of it (I do most all my bird watching with a camera in hand) in flies another bird as if saying, “me too, me too!” It was a he, and he was a house finch. The LBB was his Mrs. As birds of a feather flock together, observing an LBB’s companion makes a lot of sense. Knowing that LBBs are often females also makes watching for companion birds helpful as males are almost always easier to identify. Some of the most common LBB females you will identify fast by their companions are Finches, Bobolinks, Diskcissels, Thrushes, Blackbirds and Cowbirds.

Relative size differences in song birds. Captured from
Relative size differences in song birds. Captured from
Beak styles compared. Portion of a graphic from
Beak styles compared. Portion of a graphic from

LBB ID by Body Type

One method of dealing with LBBs I found comes from a Northern Woodlands article by Bryan Pfeiffer. In Little Brown Birds, he says to start with just noting the size, little brown bird or big brown bird. If it is large, it is not likely a sparrow. If it is small it could be a sparrow, but also a wren or finch. If it is bigger than a robin, you may be looking at a Cookoo. Not that big, then you may still be in the thrush and thrasher group. After that observation, consider the bird’s shape, beak type.

Bird Shape – Is the bird slim and elongated? You could be looking at a thrush. Is it compact, shaped like a football? Very likely you are looking at a sparrow.

Bird Beak – Beaks are very specialized identifiers. Is it cone shaped? You have a seed eater. Finches and sparrows fall into this group along with many others, but you have just halved the number of birds you might be looking at. Is the beak narrow and thin? This beak is made for catching insects. If it is heavy and longer than a finch bill, you may be looking at a bird with a more varied diet. If it is curved in some way, the choices are further narrowed down.

All these things will get you to a particular family of birds faster than trying to decipher spots and streaks on feathers first.

LBB ID by Behavior and Location

Behavior – The way a bird moves and holds itself will say a lot about what it is. Wrens hold their tails up high while sparrows generally keep their tails in-line to their bodies. A pipit walks, it doesn’t hop like shorter legged sparrows.

Voice – I admit this is an advanced birder skill, but we all have to start somewhere, so new birders should start picking up this identifying skill as they go. Pay attention to calls and songs starting with the most common birds you see. Some birds such as the American Crow and the Fish Crow are almost identical expect for their voices. Sometimes the birds chose to be closed mouthed, but that just gives us more time to observe while we wait for a chorus.

Habitat – Where you are will also identify a bird. Many birds are specialized to certain habitats. Bobolinks and Diskcissels like grassy fields. So do Pipits, but like Red-winged Blackbirds they will also prefer shorelines. Thrushes are woodland birds. Are you observing birds in an urban setting? I’m not talking about backyards, but park and parking lot birds here. In my area, the grackle fits this category and the lady grackle, unlike her mister, is an LBB. So are female Brewer’s and several other blackbird females.

Season - The time of year you find the bird in is also a habitat marker. Pipits only come to Texas in winter along with many sparrows and all longspurs. A Lark Sparrow, however, breeds here, so I would expect of find female Longspurs gathering nest material with some of my other grassland birds. Learning your birds by their seasonal appearances will allow you to anticipate arrivals and be on watch for first visitors.

Below is a table of some common LBBs and their identifiers. These birds were spotted in Texas so when I mention seasonal appearances, I'm only talking about appearances within Texas. Note that I don’t mention anything about feather markings. How a bird is dressed when dealing with LBBs should be the final part of identification, not the first. I’m still learning bird calls, so I have only added voice information for those I’m most familiar with. For recordings of bird calls to learn from, visit Cornell Lab Ornithology.

LLB Identification Gallery


Happy Birding.

© 2015 Sherry Thornburg


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)