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.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Low Concern
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 Sparrow
Brown, Green, Tan, Yellow
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Series of musical chips, becoming more rapid at the end.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Whistle


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.



3-5, typically 4. Glossy white, unmarked. Incubation period and roles of the parents in incubating are not well known.


Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Pairs probably raise 2 broods per year.

Feeding Behavior

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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Undoubtedly has decreased in southern Texas as land has been cleared for farming; still common in remaining habitat.

Climate Map

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.