The bird is the same size and shape as a white-throated sparrow. My tentative ID is song sparrow, but I'm weak on it. It's hanging out in my folks' backyard, feeding on the ground. It would probably be called a streaked breasted bird, but the fact is, it looks pinstriped, top and bottom. It's stripey as hell. The back is just as streaked as the breast, and much the same color. Head is also striped, same color. It's a plain buff color with black stripes, very drab, except for the dramatic striping. It has pronounced dark lateral throat stripes (I think they're called? The dark wedges down the throat.) The breast stripes seem to merge together, but I couldn't see a prounounced breast spot (although it might be there--angle wasn't great.) It's very striped all along the sides, didn't see any dramatic white anywhere, just buff and stripes. There may have been wing bars, but if so, I missed them in the general thick striping. This is a hellaciously striped bird. Sparrowish gray beak, basic wedge, nothing dramatic.
It was bigger than a purple finch, and the stripes a bit thicker, particularly on the head. It did not have the reddishness or the more solid patches that appear in my guide on the song sparrow, buuuut the online guides mentioned that there are a lot of color variations with song sparrows, so my tentative guess is something in a vague beige song sparrow. Alas, I have no good photos of such a bird to compare to. This area is cold enough that it does get lapland longspurs and other migrants from cold areas overwintering, though. I can't rule out a female of some species, either.
There were several of these birds, all feeding on the ground, amid white-throated sparrows, slate juncoes, and mourning doves.
Edit: Spotted the little bugger again, and he does have a dark breast spot, and when he stands up, while the sides are still streaked, the very lower underbelly is white, and if I squint, I could see the crown being just slightly rufous. So I'm gonna call it probably a somewhat drab song sparrow. We're not really in the right territory for Vesper sparrows, which would be the other possibility.
EditEdit: Okay, some of the photos of the greyish savannah sparrow are it to the life. Except it's in the wrong area--it's not supposed to be in Western PA until summer. But the upper borders of the winter range are fairly close, so while they'd be out of their range, it wouldn't be by much, and they're listed as forming small loose flocks in winter (there were several,) where the song sparrow's supposed to be solitary. So this may just be a case of the birds not reading the bird books. I'm leaving it off the lifelist until I can find more reports, or check more photos of the song sparrow.
God, this is why I never messed with sparrow IDs before. What was I thiiiinking?
EditEditEdit: Okay, it's listed in OTHER guides as wintering farther north, and also having color variations. So my major argument against savannah sparrowdom is shot down, and it matches those photos rather better than it did the song sparrow.
Jesu Christos, what a hobby.