Identifying Little Brown Jobs


Welcome to another entry of Where the birds at  - where I will highlighting the key features of the different LBJ species found in Southern Africa that will hopefully improve your skills in identifying them.

One of the terms encountered by the everyday birder in the field of bird identification is the dreaded LBJs - otherwise known as the Little Brown Jobs which refers to "any of the large number of species of small brown passerine birds - which are notoriously difficult to distinguish". A very apt statement that summarizes how we birders feel about this particular category of birds.

If you American birders thought you had a LBJ problem, I ask you to find a South African Bird Field Guide, page through all those little drab brown birds that all look EXACTLY THE SAME, and then come back to me!

Seriously! One look at all those LBJs and it induces a freaking headache!

Which is unfortunate for birders, because in an addition to their nightmarish appearance,  most of South African LBJs are endemic and mostly sought after by bird enthusiasts because of this and that they make up a large portion of SA's bird species!

In this post, I will be providing a few key features in a few LBJ species that will HOPEFULLY make LBJ identification a little easier but don't get your hopes up!
Cape Canary

  • Sparrow-like "puffy" birds with forked tails
  • Fairly short, broad-based conical bills
  • Some diagnostic facial and head markings 

Chats, Wheatears
Ant-eating Chat

  • Similar in appearance to flycatchers but with longish legs
  • Related to Robin-chats with similar bills 
  • Colour of rump and tail - important for ID
  • Chats - flicks wings
  • Wheatears - Wags tails
  • Mountain Wheatear (male) - right


Large group of smallish, rufous-crowned warblers

Levaillant's Cisticola

  • Very small birds
  • Bill - Straight, long and thin
  • Perches prominently 
  • Calls and where it occurs in landscape
  • Extent of streaking on back
  • Extent and richness of rufous on head
  • Length of tail

    Ground dwelling birds - often confused with pipits    
  • Positioning and angle of the legs to the ground       
  • Vertical body position
  • Bills - Seldom more than bird's head length
  •          - Heavier than those of pipits
  •          - Rounded on upper ridge

African Pipit                   

  • Habitat - Open country and woodland                                  
  • Scrambles over grass tufts and stone unlike a lark
  • Similar to larks however
  •              - Longer legs and tails
  •              - Horizontal stance
  •              - Position of legs and stance - wags tail
  • Not as robust as larks
  • Bill - slender and pointed

Lesser Swamp-Warbler

  • Very small birds
  • Secretive
  • Drab plumage
  • Call and songs - important for ID
  • Insect-eater
  • Head appears flat in front

Another recommendation from me if you want to improve in your IDing of LBJs, is to purchase a book about LBJs : Chamberlain's LBJs authored by Faansie Peacock - looks like an interesting birding aide.

What are your experiences with these pesky group of birds?
What do you think of LBJs?
And what should I write about next?

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