At a Glance
In brushy country of far southern Texas, this plain little sparrow moves about quietly in the undergrowth. With its secretive behavior and soft ticking callnotes, it often goes unnoticed at most seasons; in spring, however, its song of accelerating musical chips may be conspicuous. Despite the name, this bird is probably related more closely to the towhees than to our other sparrows; it often forages like a towhee, using its feet to scratch for food in the leaf-litter.
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
Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Apparently a permanent resident throughout its range.
5 3/4" (15 cm). Dull olive above, grayish below. Head gray with dull brown stripes on crown.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Brown, Green, Tan, Yellow
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
Series of musical chips, becoming more rapid at the end.
Woodland undergrowth, weedy thickets. In southern Texas, lives in the understory of dense low woods and in areas of low native brush. Farther south in the tropics, inhabits drier woods and semi-open scrub, avoiding humid tropical forest.
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3-5, typically 4. Glossy white, unmarked. Incubation period and roles of the parents in incubating are not well known. Young: Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Pairs probably raise 2 broods per year.
Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Pairs probably raise 2 broods per year.
Does at least the majority of its feeding on the ground, under dense thickets or near their edges. Often forages rather like a towhee, scratching with its feet among the leaf-litter. Members of a pair may forage together.
Probably insects and seeds. Diet is thought to be mainly insects (including caterpillars) and the seeds of wild plants.
Little is known of the nesting habits. Birds may remain in pairs or small groups during the winter, separating into isolated pairs in spring. Males sing in spring to defend nesting territories. Nest site is in dense thickets, usually placed in shrub or cactus, typically 2-3' above ground but sometimes up to 5' high. Nest is large for size of bird, a bulky cup with a domed top above it, so that entrance is on the side; made of dry weed stems, grass, twigs, leaves, strips of bark, lined with fine grass and sometimes with hair.
Undoubtedly has decreased in southern Texas as land has been cleared for farming; still common in remaining habitat.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Olive Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Olive 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.