At a Glance
A sharply marked little bird of the arid zones. Black-throated Sparrows are very common in parts of the Southwest, even in some relatively barren flats of creosote bush where few other birds occur; loose winter flocks feed on the ground in open areas, making little tinkling callnotes. In spring, males perch atop low bushes to sing their metallic notes and trills.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Desert and Arid Habitats, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas
Direct Flight, Flitter, Rapid Wingbeats
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Permanent resident in much of Southwest, migratory farther north. Northern limit of breeding range may vary from year to year, with occasional northward "invasions." Strays sometimes wander far east, even to Atlantic Coast.
5 1/4" (13 cm). Black throat and mask set off by white eyebrow and whisker stripes. Plain gray-brown above, with narrow white tail edge and corners. Juvenile has white throat, streaked chest; suggests Sagebrush Sparrow but has stronger white eyebrow.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Gray, White
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
Two clear notes followed by a buzzy trill.
Chirp/Chip, Trill, Whistle
Arid brush, creosote-bush deserts. Lives in a variety of dry open habitats, from Sonoran desert with its mix of shrubs and cactus to very barren flats of creosote bush or saltbush. Also locally in grassland with scattered cactus, sagebrush flats, open pinyon-juniper woods.
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3-4, sometimes 2. Whitish to very pale blue. Details of incubation not well known. Young: Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which young leave the nest not well known. May raise 2 broods per year.
Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which young leave the nest not well known. May raise 2 broods per year.
Forages mostly while running about on the ground; also does some foraging up in shrubs and desert trees. Occasionally makes short flights to catch insects in mid-air.
Mostly seeds and insects. In general, probably eats more seeds in winter, more insects in summer. Also feeds on fresh green shoots, other green vegetation, and ripe berries and fruits when available. Can survive without water at some times of year, drawing its liquid from insects and green plants that it eats. Young are fed mostly insects.
Male sings in breeding season to defend nesting territory. Timing of nesting activity may vary from year to year, depending on timing of rains. Nest site is in a low shrub or branching cactus, typically well hidden and usually within 2' of the ground; sometimes placed on ground at base of shrub. Nest is a rather bulky, sturdy open cup of grass, weeds, plant fibers, and small twigs, lined with fine grass, plant down, and often with animal hair.
Has declined in some areas with increasing development in desert areas; unlike some desert birds, does not adapt well to suburbs. In proper habitat, still widespread and common.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Black-throated Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Black-throated Sparrow
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.