Conservation status Fairly common in its habitat, numbers probably stable.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Brushy mountain slopes, open chaparral, sagebrush. Found mostly in arid scrub on hillsides, from low foothills up to almost 7,000' in mountains, in chaparral and open thickets of manzanita, scrub oak, sagebrush, chamise, and other low shrubs. In winter also found locally in desert areas, mesquite thickets.
A small, long-tailed bird of arid southwestern hills, the Black-chinned Sparrow is quite localized and sometimes overlooked. It often nests on steep hillsides covered with dense low scrub, areas that tend to be ignored by birders. In winter it may occur in small flocks, foraging inconspicuously on the ground in brushy areas, sometimes associating with Chipping or Brewer's sparrows. The black chin mentioned in the name is present only on males in breeding plumage.

Feeding Behavior

Does most of its foraging on the ground, often moving about slowly and spending much time feeding in a limited area. Also forages up in low shrubs. Except when nesting, often forages in small, loose flocks, sometimes associated with other sparrows.


2-4, sometimes 5. Very pale blue, often unmarked, sometimes dotted with dark brown. Incubation probably about 13 days, and may be mostly by female. Young: Both parents bring food to the young. Age at which the young leave the nest is not well known.


Both parents bring food to the young. Age at which the young leave the nest is not well known.


Probably seeds and insects. Diet is not well known; probably eats mostly seeds in winter, many insects in summer, like related sparrows. Probably feeds its young mostly on insects.


Often nests in small loose colonies. Male sings in spring to defend nesting territory. Nest site is close to ground (from a few inches up to 4' high) in a low shrub, often a sagebrush. Nest is a shallow open cup made of dry grass, weed stems, yucca fibers, lined with fine grass, plant fibers, sometimes feathers or animal hair.

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

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Fall migration begins early, with many leaving their breeding grounds during August. May be a permanent resident in some areas near the Mexican border.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

The beautiful song is a series of slurred notes, either swee? swee? or chew chew chew, running together into a rapid canary-like trill.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.