Mystery Sparrow

Anyone recognize this bird? There were two of them at the Mcllellan Ranch feeders (in Cupertino, CA) this morning and I didn’t bring a field guide with me on this trip:


Maybe a Lincoln’s Sparrow? a Juvenile Swamp Sparrow? a hybrid? unfamiliar subspecies of Song Sparrow? Nothing seems to quite fit.

It was distinctly rufous, with white outer tail feathers.

back view

Update: Bird ID’d

Thanks folks. It is an immature Oregon Junco (a subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco), a plumage that was not listed in any reference I had available; and is surprisingly hard to find even now that I know what it is. It’s not shown in Sibley’s Western Field Guide, and National Geographic has one unclear picture of this plumage. It really is quite different than the adult. However now that I know what to look for, I can find other pictures of this on the net that are a spot on match. I had considered Junco but didn’t think of immature. The bill and white outer tail feathers were Junco-like, but everything else was so un-Juncoish I really didn’t think that was possible. Live and learn.

8 Responses to “Mystery Sparrow”

  1. Rich Says:

    Good question! I’d suggest an immature Lincoln’s sparrow due to the streaking on the crown.

  2. bobolink Says:

    baby Juncos :P

  3. jacksnipe Says:

    Immature Dark-eyed Junco

  4. Calvin Says:

    Looks like a juvenile Dark-Eyed Junco.

  5. Eric Salzman Says:

    Why not a Savannah Sparrow? Savannahs have a very wide range and are very variable. They often have whitish outer tail feathers and they can be quite reddish with weak face patterns, broad streaks below, white belly and even touches of yellowish/buff at the sides of the breast.

    Eric Salzman

  6. Dirk Says:

    The beak is too thick for the bird to be an Oregon Junco

  7. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    Subspecies are fuzzy, but this is close enough to Oregon Junco for my taste. certainly that’s by far the most common Junco around Cupertino. Is there another subspecies you think it’s more likely to be?

  8. Matthew Dodder Says:

    This is definitely a juvenile “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco. The streaking is typical of juveniles, and the pink bill is prefect.

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