Q: We live in Northern Calif. about 30 south of Medford Oregon. I have identified all the birds for winter except this one. It is about one and a half times bigger than a Spotted Towhee. Kind of a dull maybe buff color.
I hope you can tell me what is this. Thank you. -Valerie
A: From the photo, we have narrowed it down to either a California Towhee (Pipilo crissalis) or Female Brown-headed Cowbird.
I'm leaning more towards the towhee than cowbird based on what you said about size. Spotted Towhee are in the 7-8" range, California Towhees are 9-10" range.
There are no other larger birds in your area that would fit the description.
Photos of birds are hard to compare because they will never look exactly the same based on lighting, how the bird is positioned, etc. - even two photos of the same bird will usually look different.
So the California Towhee in the photo to the right may not look like your bird, but based on size, bill shape, breast pattern, feet and leg shape, it looks pretty close.
Female brown-headed cowbirds have a similar bill shape and drab coloring, but do no have much in the way of streaking on the breast, unless it is a juvenile. They are also smaller, closer to the size of a Spotted Towhee.
California Towhees are sometimes described as being a large, oversized, drab sparrow.
I have not found many videos of California Towhees, but here is one with a quick look.
California Towhees have rusty colored undertail coverts which you can see in this video. Have you ever noticed the rusty color on the bird at your feeder? Let us know if you have any more additional information about the bird or more photos if you do not think it is a California Towhee.
Here is another video of an adult feeding a fledged juvenile California Towhee.
Photo of California Towhee courtesy of San Diego Shooter
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