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Black-throated Sparrow

As the name hints, these small Sparrows have a patch of black under their chin.

Like most songbirds, male Black-throated Sparrows establish territories on their breeding ground. In an interesting twist, these territories are largest during territory establishment and courtship, and shrink once incubation of the eggs begins. In wetter years, Black-throated Sparrows may raise two broods.

Suppression of natural wildfires allows vegetation to become too thick for Black-throated Sparrows. When a fire eventually does take place, this thick vegetation burns so hot and so completely that the shrubs are destroyed. These habitat changes present conservation challenges for this species.


Description of the Black-throated Sparrow


The Black-throated Sparrow has plain, gray-brown upperparts and wings, pale underparts, a black face and throat, a bold white supercilium, and a white stripe down the side of the face.  Length: 5 in.  Wingspan: 8 in.

Black-throated Sparrow


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles have streaked underparts and lack black in the face.


Black-throated Sparrows inhabit arid, brushy desert areas with plants like cactus and creosote bush.


Black-throated Sparrows eat insects and seeds.

Black-throated Sparrow

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.


Black-throated Sparrows forage on the ground, running and stopping frequently.


Black-throated Sparrows breed throughout much of the interior western U.S., centered on the Great Basin. They winter in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. The population has declined in recent decades.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Black-throated Sparrow.

Fun Facts

Black-throated Sparrows can be found in barren habitats that support few other species.

Nine U.S. subspecies of Black-throated Sparrows are recognized, and they exhibit minor plumage variation.


The song consists of a series of tinkling notes. A high, bell-like call is also given.


Similar Species

Sage Sparrow
Sage Sparrows have a white throat.

Black-chinned Sparrow
Black-chinned Sparrows have a gray head.


The Black-throated Sparrow’s nest is a cup of weeds, grass, and twigs and is lined with finer materials. It is placed low in a cactus or shrub.

Number: Usually lay 3-4 eggs.
Color: Pale bluish in color.

Incubation and fledging:

The young hatch at about 12 days and fledge at about 10 days, though remaining dependent on the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Black-throated Sparrow

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Black-throated Sparrow – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.




This is a common bird in the open country of central and southern Texas. A summer resident in the northern part of its breeding range, it is a permanent resident in southern Texas and the ?mexican part of its range.

Referring to an area some 200 miles west of Dallas, V. P. McLaughlin (1948) says: “This secretive bird arrived unheralded, and it did not sing until May 3, when it was first seen. No nests were ever found, although the birds were locally common all summer until July 29, when many immatures were seen, apparently migrating southward. There were no further records after August 1.”

Farther to the south, in the vicinity of San Antonio, Roy W. Quillin and Ridley Holleman (1918) remark that the black-throated sparrow was “Fairly common over the entire county, but nesting only where an abundance of prickly pear offers its favorite nesting site.” From observations made in the winter, Ludlow Griscom (1920) found that the species disappeared with the first cold weather in that area.

Ludlow Griscom and Maunsell S. Crosby (1926) consider the blackthroated sparrow a common permanent resident in the Brownsville region of southern Texas, where it prefers the most arid habitat. Herbert Friedmann (1925) elaborates that “This is a bird of the open country, nesting in low, but very dense bushes. Its song is very reminiscent of that of the Song Sparrow, and is quite remarkable in its volume for the size of the bird. The black-throated sparrow is an early nester . . . .” S. Dillon Ripley (1949) reports that the species “was singing and in breeding condition at Port Isabel as early as March 11,’, 1946. II. Friedmann (1925, 1963) also notes that this sparrow is parasitized by the brown-headed cowbird, Molothrus ater obseurus, in this area.

In northeastern Mexico the breeding season seems to be somewhat extended. George M. Sutton, Olin S. Pettingill, and Robert B. Lea (1942) found stub-tailed juveniles in early May near Monterrey, Nuevo Le6n, and Dean Amadon and Allan R. Phillips (1947) observed adults feeding fledged young near Saltillo, Coahuila, as late as August 28.

Range: The Texas black-throated sparrow breeds, and is largely resident, from central and central northern Texas (east of Pecos River, San Angelo, Wayland) south to eastern Coahuila (Saltillo), south central Nuevo Le6n (Linares), southern Tamaulipas (Magiscatzfn), and southern Texas (Rockport).

Migration: The data deal with the species as a whole. Early dates of spring arrival are: New Mexico: Rio Grande Valley, April 27. Arizona: Camp Verde, March 2. Utah: Kanab, April 15. Wyoming: Laramie, April 27. Nevada: Mercury, March 18.

Late dates of spring departure are: Texas: San Antonio, April 14; Corpus Christi, April 5.

Early date of fall arrival is: Texas: Austin, October 5.

Late dates of fall departure are: Oregon: Harney County, July 15. Nevada: Mercury, August 22. Utah: Kanab, August 24. Anzona: Huachuca Mountains, September 30.

Egg dates: Texas: 101 records, March20 to August 13; 51 records, April 14 to May 20.

Contributed by RICHARD C. BANKS


In 1939 Thomas D. Burleigh and George II. Lowery, Jr., described this form of the black-throated sparrow from the Guadalupe Mountain region of western Texas, as being decidedly larger and slightly grayer than the more eastern A. b. b’dineata, with a smaller white spot on the tip of the outer tail feather, and as grayer and larger than the more western A. b. deserticola. This subspecies also occurs in western Oklahoma, southeastern Colorado, eastern New Mexico, and northern Coahuila.

Of the status of the black-throated sparrow in the Guadalupe Mountains, T. D. Burleigh and G. H. Lowery (1940) say:

We found the desert sparrow to be a common bird here throughout the larger part of the year, occurring both in the open desert and in the canyons to an altitude of approximately 6,500 feet. Its distribution during the summer months, however, was limited by the presence of the cane cactus (Opuntia crborescens), and in spots where this characteristic plant was scarce or wanting, none of these sparrows was encountered. This partiality was eventually explained by the fact that so far as we could determine the nest was always placed in this cactus. It is apparently the middle of May before nesting activities are well under way and a month later before the young are fully fledged. *** During the winter months these birds desert entirely that portion of their breeding range lying above an altitude of 4,800 feet, and even at this lower altitude are rather scarce at this season of the year. In early January only an occasional small flock was noted in the open desert ***

Elsewhere in the range of the subspecies the restriction to a particular plant for nesting may not be as extreme. Oliver Davie (1898) was apparently referring to birds that would later be called opuntia: “Mr. Win. Lloyd found it breeding in Western Texas, nesting in the cat-claw or chapparal bushes. Nests were found May 6 and 13, June 12, and July 13 containing fresh eggs, indicating that the bird rears at least two broods in a season.” Thomas H. Montgomery, Jr., (1905) found it common among the mesquite in Brewster County, Texas.

At the southern extent of the range, where some intergradation with the neighboring races A. b. grisea and A. 6. bilirteata occurs in the Sierra del Carmen of northern Coahuila, nesting apparently begins somewhat earlier. A. II. Miller (lOSSa) states that “This sparrow was moderately common in the open desert scrub at the base of the mountains below 4800 feet. Females taken on April 22 and 26 had brood patches and had recently laid.

Range: Colorado and Oklahoma to central northern Mexico.

Breeding Range: The Guadalupe black-throated sparrow breeds from southeaslern Colorado (Baca County) and northwestern Oklahoma (Kenton) south through eastern New Mexico and western Texas to northeastern Chihuahua and northwestern Coahuila (Sierra del Carmen).

Winter range: Winters in southern part of breeding range.

Contributed by RICHARD C. BANKS


This attractive little sparrow is a common dweller of the arid southwest. As much as the currently accepted name refers to its most prominent field mark, the often used alternate “desert sparrow” refers to its most characteristic habitat. Herbert Brandt (1951) combined these two features quite well when he referred to this species as a “handsome, black-bibbed obligate of the hot, littlewatered areas.”

Joseph Grinnell, Joseph Dixon, and Jean M. Linsdale (1930), in their report on the Lassen Peak Region of northern California, emphasize the truly desert character of this bird which “seemed to live in the driest, and apparently the hottest, areas in each neighborhood.” J. Grinnell (1932) observed this sparrow in Death Valley and collected a specimen “from the ground beneath a desert holly bush at about : 280 feet, less than 50 yards from the very edge of the lowest part of the sink. . . . This last was the lowest occurrence of any bird in Death Valley.” In summarizing more recent records from the Death Valley area, Roland H. Wauer (1962) mentioned that “The average annual precipitation, since 1910, is 2.3 inches.” Joseph Grinnell (1914) further commented that “This is a bird of the upland deserts; not one was seen in the riparian belt” along the lower Colorado River Valley between southern California and Arizona. In the Lake Mead region of southern Nevada, Gordon W. Gullion, Warren M. Pulich and Fred G. Evenden (1959) characterize it as “one of the ubiquitous birds of the creosote bush and desert scrub environments, being distributed generally independently of available drinking water.”

The summary of the habitat Joseph Grinnell and A. H. Miller (1944) give for this species in California applies as well to most of its range elsewhere: “Sparsely vegetated, strongly insolated desert terrain, either steeply sloping or essentially flat, but not ordinarily the floors of sinks or riparian borders. Most favored are desert uplands: alluvial fans and bill slopes, usually with much exposed rock or gravel pavement. Plants associated include a wide variety but especially favored are cholla cactus and creosote bush, at least where mixed with some other shrubs. Catclaw, small mesquites, artemisia, sages, rabbit-brush, and purshia are other plants which the birds often live in and about.”

In southern California Smyth and Bartholomew (1966) find that generally black-throated sparrows prefer hillsides to the flatter areas. We never saw them in the floor of the Coachella Valley, but they could be found from the alluvial fans at the foot of the mountains which support little vegetation but creosote bush, up to at least 4,500 feet in the San Jacinto Mountains where pinon pine and juniper predominate.”

A. M. Woodbury and C. Cottam (1962) associate the blackthroated sparrow mainly with blackbrush (Coleogyne) in much of its range in Utah. William H. Belile (1943) found it “in the creosote bush: Joshua tree association” in the Beaver Dam Mountains of southwestern Utah, however, and mentioned that Merriam had earlier found it; ranging up into the junipers in that region. In the Kanab area of southern Utah, W. H. Behie, J. B. Bushman, and C. M. Greenhalgh (1958) found black-throated sparrows in sage and greasewood along Kanab Creek, but “at Cave Lakes Canyon they occupied a sage-juniper habitat.” Edward IR. Warren (1913) found the species on “a mesa with scattering cedars and pinons” in Mesa County, Cob.

Nesting: W. E. D. Scott (1887), speaking of the Tucson, Ariz., area, gives the breeding season as March through mid-August. This old information still stands for nesting in the southwestern United States, although apparently the extreme months are seldom utilized. Most recorded nesting dates fall in April, May, and June. The protraction of the nesting season into August is probably the result of late renestings or perhaps third broods. J. Grinnell and H. S. Swarth (1913) mention finding a nest on June 1 in the San Jacinto area of southern California and go on to say “This may have been a second set, full-grown juvenals being seen on the same date. As young birds atï about the same stage of development were secured in this locality late in the summery August 23 to 27, the nesting season appears to be rather protracted.”

From their studies of the species on the desert slopes of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains and in San Gorgonio Pass in southern California in 1964: 65, M. Smyth and G. A. Bartholomew (1966) find that song and pair formation usually begin there in February.

In 1965 the spring was about a month later than usual, and the first young had left the nest by early June. “We did not find any late nests that would indicate a second brood, but begging young were still being fed by adults as late as early August, so either the nesting season is extended well into the hot months of the year, or else fledglings are attended to for some weeks after they leave the nest.”

At the southern limit of the range of t.his form in central Baja California, Grifling Bancroft (1930) reports finding nests in the latter part of May. In the vicinity of Punta Eugenia, in western Baja California, and on nearby Cedros and Natividad islands, both A. J. van Rossem (1945b) and R. C. Banks (1964a) found that nesting took place as early as February. This part of the range of this subspecies differs from the rest of its range in that it is subject to heavy fogs in the winter, and possibly the earlier nesting here reflects the relative abundance of moisture.

Nests are usually well concealed, not far above the ground in small bushes. Florence M. Bailey (1928) records nesting sites for New Mexico as being “in catsclaw, yucca, cactus, sagebrush, creosote, other bushes, mesquite, and low junipers.” Herbert Brandt (1951) reports finding a nest “situated 18 inches up in a well concealed position near center of a dense blackbrush” in Cochise County, Arizona. In southern California, J. Grinnell and II. S. Swarth (1913) found a nest near the brink of Deep Canyon: “It was in a little gully, about a quarter of a mile from water, and placed in a clump of Dalea .johmsonii, about one foot from the ground. It was loosely fastened among the forking branches, being held in place more by the general thorniness of the shrub than by any evident forethought in its construction.

D. H. Johnson, M. D. Bryant, and A. H. Miller (1948) report several nests found in the Providence ~’Iountains of California between May 13 and 24. One of these “was near the center of a small, dense, cholla cactus that grew among bushes in a side wash. * * * The needle-sharp thorns of the cactus surrounded the nest so closely that the parent seemed to have difficulty in avoiding them. Each time it approached or left, the bird paused to snip off the tips of some of the thorns. When disturbed only enough to cause it to stand on the edge of the nest, it had difficulty in turning around to sit on the eggs again.”

Another nest the above authors described in a Purshia bush “had a diameter of about 110 mm.; height to rim about 60 mm.; nest cavity 50 mm. in diameter and 40 nun. deep. The outer framework was principally of stiff, dry bundles of dead Joshua tree leaf fibers, with a few grass and weed stems woven in. The lining was of softer material, including individual Joshua tree leaf fibers, cowhairs, and seeds of composites. The last were apparently selected because of the soft, plumelike pappus.” A nest in Nevada Jean M. Linsdale (1938) describes “measured 55 mm. inside and 95 mm. outside. The structure was made of whitish material and was lined partly with black horsehair.” J. M. Linsdale also reports on two other nests. One ‘~was composed of fine material: grass blades and stems, Eriogonum, and small twigs. The lining was whitish. The exposure was mainly to the east, but slightly to the south, and the nest was partly in the shade.” The third nest “was composed of twigs and fibers of sage brush, and it was lined with light colored rabbit fur.” Cowhair is a component of nests described by Taylor (1912) in Nevada and Griffing Bancroft (1930) in Baja California. Mrs. Bailey (1928) reports “A nest partly lined with wool, as is the custom in the sheep country.” Apparently black-throated sparrows like hair, and are not too particular as to the kind; H. Brandt (1951) mentions a nest with a “lining of finer grasses, plant down, and a few porcupine hairs.”

Eggs: Three or four eggs constitute the normal clutch for the black-throated sparrow. The relatively few published reports of what may be taken as complete clutches seem to indicate a tendency toward larger clutches to the ~vest and north. Nests in New Mexico (Bailey, 1928) and Arizona (Osgood, 1903; Brandt, 1951) are usually reported with three eggs or young, whereas those in Nevada (Linsdale, 1938) and California (Johnson, Bryant, and Miller, 1948) more often have four eggs. A family of four young was observed near San Felipe, Baja California (Huey, 1927), but a nest farther south, on Angel de la Guarda Island, contained three eggs (Mailliard, 1923). At the southern edge of the range, in central Baja California, Grifling Bancroft (1930) found two nests with two eggs each.

Little information is available on the color or size of the eggs of this race of the JAack-throated sparrow. Of those in central Baja California, G. Bancroft (1930) says: “The two eggs we collected are light blue, unspotted, and averaged 17.3 x 13.8 mm.” J. G. Cooper (1870) spoke of a nest in the Providence Mountains of California containing white eggs. William L. Dawson (1923) describes the eggs as “3 to 5; bluish white, unmarked; av. size 17.2 x 13.3 (.67 x .52).” Oliver Davie (1886) does not refer to a particular subspecies in his book; he gives the color as “pure white, with a slight tinge of blue” and the size as “.70 to .75 (inch) length, .55 to .60 breadth.” In speaking of the more eastern form, A. b. biineata, William Lloyd (1887) mentions that “The eggs have a bluish tinge until blown, when they become pure white.” This probably holds true for the entire species.

Young: Jean M. Linsdale (193Gb) writes that in 1927 “my attention was attracted to the strikingly whitish linings in several nests of Black-throated Sparrows. * * * Next I noticed that the down of nestlings of this species exhibited a similar whitish appearance, and this aroused the idea that both these peculiarities might be responses to some single item in the environment of the bird.” Both nest lining and down of this sparrow fall into the lightest of the categories established to study this relationship in 15 species of desert birds. J. M. Linsdale concludes birds that nest in exposed situations in hot regions “have pale or pallid nestling plumages and nest linings which reflect and counteract the harmful effects of sun rays.~~ Plumages: J. M. Linsdale (1936b) states that “Down on the young birds was white, slightly grayish, and very buffy”. J. A. Allen (in Scott, 1887) describes the juvenal birds thus: “The young in first plumage have the feathers of the breast and flanks narrowly streaked with dusky, the streaks being most distinct on the breast. The general color of the lower parts differs little from that of the adult.” The head and cheek patch are gray to grayish-brown, and there is a prominent superciliary stripe. William Brewster (1882a) adds “back faded brown with shaft-stripes of a darker shade on most of the feathers; wing-coverts and outer webs of inner secondaries, reddishbuff.” The outer secondaries are dark, edged with buff; the primaries are dark brown. The tail is like that of the adult. Black may begin to appear on the throats of the young birds as early as July, but most of the molt into the adult plumage occurs in the fall.

In the adult the throat patch and lores are black, and the cheek patch is black shading to gray posteriorly. The white superciliary stripes nearly meet over the bill. A white malar stripe does not quite reach the bill, but is continuous with the white breast. Flanks are gray, tinged with buff in some specimens. The fore part of the crown is gray, this blending into grayish-brown on the hind crown, neck and back. The upper tail coverts are gray. The wing feathers are dark, the secondaries lined with buff. The tail feathers are black; there is a white stripe on the outer edge of the lateral rectrix, which is white-tipped. There is a trace of white at the tips of the second and sometimes other rectrices, but this is quickly worn off. The coloration of the sexes is alike.

Food: Joe T. Marshall, Jr., writes me that he obtained seeds and “rocks” from the stomach of a specimen taken in Arizona in the fall. Seeds and gravel were similarly found in a bird taken in New Mexico in November. A specimen taken in Janaury in northern Sonora had been eating small seeds. Marshall considers that the species probably eats seeds in the winter and insects during the nesting period. I have often seen adults carrying insect matter toward their nests. Free water is apparently not necessary for these birds when insects are available.

Smyth and Bartholomew (1966) comment: “The black-throated sparrow’s use of drinking water in the field seems to depend on its diet. During the late spring and early fall, stomachs contain almost exclusively seeds and gravel and the birds regularly drink at waterholes even when maximum temperatures are as low as 90 C. But as soon as green grass and herbs appear after the first rains: in 1964 these fell in mid-November: the sparrows are no longer seen at water boles and can be found in small, widely scattered flocks far from the water holes. At this time their stomachs contain green material as well as seeds and gravel, their bills are stained green, and they can be seen often pecking at green vegetation. Then when dayflying insects become more abundant in February these are eaten, sometimes almost exclusively, and this diet allows the sparrows to be independent of drinking water throughout the breeding season. A few adults can be seen coming to drink in June, and the numbers of birds visiting water and the number of visits to water per bird then increase until by August each bird visits, on the average, about twice daily. The young are fed insects, particularly grasshopper abdomens.

“The foraging habits of black-throated sparrows are, of course, reflected in their diet. They spend much of their time on the ground picking seeds or pecking at seed-husks or green grass and herbs, but in the spring and early summer they often fly up, either from the ground or a low shrub, after some flying insect. At this time, too, they often forage in such trees as mesquite, catclaw, and desert willow, obviously for insects.”

Voice: The song of the black-throated sparrow is pleasant and distinctive, but also complex and difficult to describe. M. II. and J. B. Swenk (1928) met the bird in the deserts of Arizona: ” as soon as we entered the edge of the desert north of Tucson we heard a new bird voice in the tinkling, canary-like song of this bird. Soon we saw several of them * * * and had the opportunity of listening to several males in full, ecstatic song. The song was rapidly given and sustained and frequently included triplets of what sounded like doubletoned notes.”

W. P. Taylor (1912) reports that “The song is imperfectly represented by the following syllables, ‘queet! queet! toodle-oodle-oodleoodle!’ with a rising inflection on the ‘queets.’ In a variation of the song a note is apparent resembling somewhat a call of the western lark sparrow.” This resemblence was also noted by Mrs. Bailey (1928) in New Mexico, where a song “heard frequently on the Pecos, given with a burr like that of the Lark Sparrow was ‘tra-ree-rah, reerak-ree'”

My impression of the voice, heard mostly in Baja California, Mexico, is of a longer, more warbling song, and agrees best with Mrs. Florence M. Bailey’s (1923) description from the Santa Rita Mountains of Arizona. In this area, she states, “The song may be rendered as chee-whee, whit, wher’r’r’r’r, clur, cha, cha, and also chee cha cher’r’r’r’r chee.”

Notes other than the song are rarely mentioned in accounts of this bird. W. P. Taylor (1912) states that “Low ‘chips’ were heard which were finally traced to a desert sparrow which had its beak full of insects and was perching on a rock.”

Field marks: The combination of white facial strips and jet-black throat will serve to identify this small sparrow. The white tips to the outer tail feathers may be helpful in identification at times, but are seldom seen, even ~vhen the bird is in flight. The sexes are similar.

Enemies: In the Providence Mountains of California (Johnson, Bryant, and Miller, 1948) “The nests were seldom more than two feet above the ground, and thus were within the reach of most grounddwelling predators. Near Cima on May 13, 1938, a red racer (Coluber flagellum) was found just after it had swallowed three hall-grown young from a nest in a low bush.”

Florence M. Bailey (1906) recorded a mammalian predator at a nest: “One June morning in New Mexico as I was going thru a grove of small round junipers, with spirits lifted by the bright song from the top of one of the trees, my steps were arrested and I gazed with dismay upon a beautiful little nest rudely torn from its place in the juniper, and the ground below strewn with feathers of the brooding mother bird. The horrid tragedy was probably no older than the night for the wind had not had time to blow away the feathers, and tracks tho blurred by the night’s rain were fresh enough to fix the blame upon the marauder: a coyote or lynx.”

Cowbirds sometimes parasitize nests of black-throated sparrows. Herbert Friedmann (1963) refers to two instances of such parasitism by Molothrus ater obsenrus near Tucson, Arix.

Where both the black-throated sparrow and its relative the Bell or sage sparrow (Aniphiepiza belli) nest in the same area, the two species may compete for territory. J. M. Linsdale (1938) reports an incident in Nevada where “a few minutes earlier an individual thought to be the male of the pair had driven a sage sparrow from a sage bush 20 feet from the nest site.” W. P. Taylor (1912) also reports that “a desert sparrow was on at least one occasion seen fighting with a sage sparrow.” A. W. Anthony (1895) implies that such conflicts may have some bearing on the distribution of the two species, at least near San Fernando in northern Baja California. He states that “A. be/li takes the place, to a large extent, of bilineata on the coast, crowding it further inland to the north until at San Quintin I very seldom saw it within ten miles of the beach.”

Winter: The black-throated sparrow is only partly migratory; many birds are found in the southern part of the breeding range throughout the winter. In California they leave the regions north of the Mohave Desert and are presumed to be partly migratory elsewhere, as the populations in the southern part of the state are smaller and less widely dispersed in winter than in summer (Grinnell and Miller, 1944). The species has been observed in southern Nevada in every month except January, and is (Gullion, Pulich, and Evenden, 1959) “absent from Nevada’s deserts for not over two months in midwinter, if that long.” In Arizona the species “remains through the winter in some of the warmer southern valleys” (Swarth, 1914b), and in New Mexico “a few winter on the cactus-covered plains” (Hunn, 1906).

In reference to winter activities in California, D. H. Johnson, M. D. Bryant and A. H. Miller (1948) state that “At that season they were frequently in mixed flocks with Brewer sparrows, and tended to stay more in canyons and about the bases of rimrock cliffs. A flock of eight watched near Mitchell’s on December 26, 1937, was foraging in the rain. They were very active, hopping about and apparently picking up seeds from the bare ground beneath bushes.” In the Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona, Laurence Huey (1942) reports that “During winter there was a great influx from the north, which bunched up with Brewer and Chipping Sparrows and wandered over the flats in large flocks.” Mrs. Bailey (1923) mentions for the Santa Rita Mountains of Arizona that in winter the black-throated sparrow is mainly in small flocks, often with cactus wrens, verdins, or white-crowned sparrows.

Michael Smyth and George A. Bartholomew (1966) note that in the southern California deserts: “From June to September the sparrows move about in pairs or small groups of up to five or six. Later larger flocks of up to a dozen or more birds are not uncommon, and blackthroated sparrows often keep company with sage and white-crowned sparrows.”

Grinnell (1904) found the birds common in mid-winter at Palm Springs, California, “occurring in scattering flocks of from six to twenty or more. These companies were usually in motion and hard to follow, as the birds had a way of flying off one at a time in rapid succession, retreating over a hill or behind thickets; so that the whole flock seemed to vanish.”

Range: California, Nevada and Wyoming to Baja California and Sonora.

Breeding Range: The desert black-throated sparrow breeds from northeastern California (Alturas), northern Nevada (Virgin Valley in Humboldt County, Wells), northern Utah (Salt Lake City), southwestern Wyoming (Rock Creek, Big Canyon), and western Colorado (Little Snake River, Cortez) south through desert areas to central Baja California (south to lat. 270N.; Cedros, Natix-idad, and Angel de la Guarda Islands), northern Sonora (south to lat. 300N.), and northwestern Chihuahua (Casas Grandes, Samalavuca).

Winter range: Winters from southeastern California (Providence Mountains), southern Nevada (Lake Mead), central Arizona (Salt River Valley, Safford), and southwestern New Mexico south to central Baja California (San Ignacio Lagoon, San Lucas) and central Sonora (Guay~nas).

Casual records: Casual in British Columbia (Wells Gray Park), Oregon (Depoe Bay, Beaverton, Milwaukie; Silver Lake and Wright’s Point in Harney County), Idaho (Pahsimeroi Valley), and Kansas (near Garden City). Photographed (subspecies not determined) in Illinois (Rockton) and New Jersey (New Brunswick); sight records in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Massachusetts.

Egg dates: Arizona: 25 records, April 20 to August 10; 6 records, April24 to May 21. California: 10 records, April 15 to June 6. Nevada: 15 records, May 4 to July 29.

New Mexico: 9 records, May 20 to July 30.

Contributed by RICHARD C. BANKS


Joseph Grinnell named the subspecies ban gsi in 1927 in tribute to the ornithological work of Outram Bangs. He described it as similar to the form deserticola, but with a slightly shorter wing and tail, a slightly larger bill, and paler on the upper surface. Adriaan J. van Rossem (1930) indicates that this is the smallest of the (then known) races of the species, and claims that it is darker than deserticola, the original description having been based on material which had turned paler with age.

Grinnell (1928b) gives the range of this subspecies as the southern portion of Baja California, north to about latitude 260, with intergradation with A. It deserticola taking place to about 27~ N. This includes most of the southern islands in the Gulf of California and Magdalena and Santa Margarita islands on the Pacific side of the peninsula. The population on Cerralvo Island has recently been described as A. b. telvederei (Banks, 1963a).

Walter E. Bryant (1889) says that “On Santa Margarita and Magdalena Islands they were the most common and generally distributed species. Breeding far from any water, nests were found in bushes from one to five feet above the ground.” In the Cape region, I have found this species in fairly open desert, but not where the underbrush is thick nor in the thorn forest.

A nest containing three eggs was found on Cerralvo Island (Banks, 196Th). Several other persons have mentioned finding nests, but have not recorded the number of eggs.

The data relating to the time of nesting of this subspecies are confusing and contradictory. A. 4. van Rossem (1945b) indicates a February breeding season on Magdalena and Santa Margarita islands, but presents evidence to show that elsewhere in the Cape region on the mainland the birds nest in October. On the islands in the Gulf of California he mentions March as the breeding month. More recent data from MagdaIena Island (Banks, 1964a) contradict the February date without clearly indicating an alternative. While there is some evidence of nesting near La Paz in the fall, other evidence also suggests a spring breeding season.

It seems that the population of each island in the Gulf of California has adjusted its breeding cycle to its own peculiar circumstances. Thus, Richard C. Banks (1963c.) found evidence that breeding was in progress or about to begin on San Marcos, Coronados, and Santa Catalina islands in late March and early April of 1962, but not on Monserrate Island. The birds on Espiritu Santo, Monserrate, and Danzante islands were in breeding condition in early May 1963 (Banks, 1964a), and nesting began on Cerralvo Island in mid-May 1962, perhaps continuing throughout the summer (Banks, 1963b).

These birds have been noted feeding at cacti of the genera Mainmillaria and Pack ycereus. Several seen foraging on Ocotillo (Fanquseria) on Coronados Island were apparently taking aphids from the leaves. On Cerralvo Island most foraging took place among annual plants in washes, but a bird was observed feeding at the flower of a cactus (Banks, 1963b, 1963c).

Bangs’ Black-throated Sparrow (A. b. bangsi)

Range: The Bangs’ black-throated sparrow is resident in southern Baja California from lat. 260N. southward, including most of the adjacent islands.

Cerralvo Black-throated Sparrow (A. b. belvederei)
Range: The Cerralvo black-throated sparrow is resident on Cerralvo Island, Baja California.

Contributed by RICHARD C. BANKS


Adriaan J. van Rossem (1930) describes this subspecies of the black-throa ted sparrow as the darkest of the known races, the back being more slaty and less brown, and the under parts being more extensively and deeply colored. It is resident on Tortuga Island in the Gulf of California, an island only a little more than 2 square miles in area.

A. J. van Rossem (1945b) comments on the density of the population of black-throated sparrows on Tortuga Island as follows: “Through some cause now obscure, but which most likely is connected in some way with an abundant, year-round food supply, the density of the population on Tortuga surpasses anything in my experience with the species.”

In 1930 A. J. van Rossem (op. cit.) visited the island in late March and early April and found that the breeding season was under way. When I visited Tortuga Island on Mar. 30, 1962, breeding had not yet begun (Banks, 1963c); apparently there is some variation in the annual cycle on this island.

Range: The Tortuga black-throated sparrow is resident on Tortuga Island off central eastern Baja California.

Contributed by RICHARD C. BANKS


This subspecies of the black-throated sparrow is found only on Carmen Island in the Gulf of California. C. H. Townsend (1923) and Joseph Grinnell (1927, 1928b) referred to specimens from this island, but under other subspecific names. It was not until 1945 that Adriaan J. van Rossem separated the birds of Carmen Island from A. b. banysi of the southern part of the peninsula of Baja California on the basis of their slightly grayer color and diflerent wing and tail proportions. Some authorities do not yet accept the race, but I agree with A. J. van Rossem that it can be separated on the basis of color.

Very little information is available for this subspecies. A. J. van Rossem (1945b) indicated that the breeding season began in March, but R. C. Banks (1964a) thought that date was too early, breeding not being well under way until the middle or latter part of April.

Range: The Carmen black-throated sparrow is resident on Carmen Island off central eastern Baja California.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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