Photo: Nicole Beaulac/Flickr Creative Commons

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Aimophila ruficeps

In dry southwestern hills and canyons, where sparse brush covers the rocky slopes, pairs of Rufous-crowned Sparrows lurk in the thickets. Usually they are easy to overlook; but if they are alarmed, or if members of a pair become separated, they reveal their presence with a harsh nasal call, dear-dear-dear. Although they live in dense cover they are not especially shy if undisturbed, and a birder who sits quietly in their habitat may be able to observe them closely.
Conservation status Still widespread and common, but surveys indicate overall declines in population in recent years.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Grassy or rocky slopes with sparse low bushes; open pine-oak woods. Habitat varies in different parts of range, but always in brushy areas. In Southwest, usually in rocky areas of foothills and lower canyons, in understory of pine-oak woods, or in chaparral or coastal scrub. On southern Great Plains, found in rocky outcrops with cover of dense grass and scattered bushes.
In dry southwestern hills and canyons, where sparse brush covers the rocky slopes, pairs of Rufous-crowned Sparrows lurk in the thickets. Usually they are easy to overlook; but if they are alarmed, or if members of a pair become separated, they reveal their presence with a harsh nasal call, dear-dear-dear. Although they live in dense cover they are not especially shy if undisturbed, and a birder who sits quietly in their habitat may be able to observe them closely.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, Interior
  • juvenile, Interior
  • adult, Pacific
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly while walking or hopping on the ground, but also will feed up in weeds and low bushes. Tends to move slowly, foraging in a limited area. Usually forages in pairs or in family groups.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5. Pale bluish-white, unmarked. Incubation is probably by female, but details not well known. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young probably leave the nest after about 8-9 days, before they are able to fly; young may remain with parents for up to several months.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young probably leave the nest after about 8-9 days, before they are able to fly; young may remain with parents for up to several months.

Diet

Mostly insects and seeds. Diet varies with season and locality, but tends to eat more insects in summer, more seeds in winter. Major items in diet may include caterpillars, beetle larvae and adults, grasshoppers, ants, and other insects and spiders. Also eats many seeds of grasses and weeds at all seasons, but especially in winter.


Nesting

Members of a pair may remain together all year on permanent home range. In spring and summer, male sings to defend nesting territory. Nest site is usually on the ground, typically well hidden at base of bush or grass clump, placed in a slight depression so that rim of nest is near ground level. Occasionally in low shrub, up to 1-3' above ground, especially in eastern part of range. Nest is an open cup made of small twigs, grass, weeds, plant fibers, often with some animal hair in lining.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Generally a permanent resident. Thought to retreat from some northern areas of range in winter, but may be simply overlooked at that season.

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Migration

Generally a permanent resident. Thought to retreat from some northern areas of range in winter, but may be simply overlooked at that season.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Song is a rapid, pleasing jumble of notes, recalling that of the House Wren, but with "sparrow quality." Distinctive call is a down-slurred dear dear dear and a thin, plaintive tseeee.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
New World Sparrows Perching Birds

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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