Conservation status Far less numerous than it was originally, but still locally common in areas where good grass cover remains. In its Mexican range, vulnerable to loss of habitat through overgrazing.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Tall desert grass, thorn brush. Quite local in our area, favoring areas with good growth of grass and numerous shrubs, especially mesquite and desert hackberry. Avoids areas that have been heavily grazed, but may occur in suburban areas where houses are scattered and good vegetation remains.
One of the last birds new to science to be found in North America, the Rufous-winged Sparrow was discovered in 1872 at Tucson. It was common there into the 1880s, but then disappeared for half a century! Since the 1930s it has gradually increased again in southern Arizona, but it is still uncommon and local, found in desert areas with good grass cover. Nesting mainly after the summer rains begin, it may be heard singing in the desert in late summer.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly while hopping about on the ground. Also forages up in low bushes, especially in summer. Picks up items from ground or from stems of plants, and occasionally makes short flights to catch insects in mid-air. Usually forages in pairs or family groups, sometimes loosely associated with Black-throated Sparrows.


Usually 4, sometimes 2-3. A century ago, may have typically laid clutches of 4-5 in Arizona. Eggs pale bluish white, unmarked. Incubation is apparently by female only, length of incubation period not well known. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 8-9 days after hatching. 1 brood per year, or 2 in years with good rains.


Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 8-9 days after hatching. 1 brood per year, or 2 in years with good rains.


Mostly insects and seeds. Summer diet is mostly insects, especially caterpillars and grasshoppers, also many other insects and some spiders. Eats more seeds at other seasons, especially those of grasses and weeds, and winter diet may be almost entirely seeds.


Members of a pair may remain together on territory at all seasons. Nesting in Arizona is usually in late summer, after beginning of rainy season; in wet years, may also nest in spring. Male defends nesting territory by singing from a raised perch. Nest site is usually in low shrub or cactus, from a few inches to 7' above the ground; often placed in desert hackberry or mesquite, sometimes in cholla or prickly pear cactus. Nest (probably built by female only) is a deep open cup made of dry weeds, grass, and small twigs, lined with fine grass and often with animal hair.

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

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Mostly a permanent resident. A few may wander short distances away from breeding areas in fall and winter.

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

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Songs and Calls

Characteristic call is a sharp seep; song is variable but always ends in a trill of rapid chips.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Rufous-winged Sparrow

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate Threats Near You

Climate threats facing the Rufous-winged 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.