WatchList Species Account for Black-chinned Sparrow
(Spizella atrogularis)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species

Photo: Greg Lavaty

The Black-chinned Sparrow is locally common in the arid brushlands of the Southwest and in parts of California occasionally to southern Oregon; it ranges southward into central and southern interior Mexico.
An inconspicuous bird, it frequents cover offered by shrubbery, where it forages low in the brush for seeds and insects.


The Black-chinned Sparrow ranges from sea level to 8,800 feet, and is found in gently to steeply sloped topography, where moderately dense brush is broken by rocky outcrops and occasional larger shrubs and trees. In southern California it is often abundant in chaparral. In winter the northern migratory populations move from chaparral and sagebrush habitat to lower elevation desert scrub to the south.

Analysis of Breeding Bird Survey data shows significant recent declines in California, although the species may be expanding northward from the central and northern part of the state and in New Mexico; it is apparently stable elsewhere. Its expansion into southern Oregon, noted only since the middle of the 20th century, may simply reflect more observers in the field. Population fluctuations of the bird may be determined in part by climatic change and variables in the weather, with peak numbers reached following wet winters.

Threats include overgrazing, mining and the use of trail bikes and other ATVs, all of which degrade its habitat and depress its numbers. Eliminating overgrazing in winter grasslands would benefit the Black-chinned Sparrow, as would habitat preservation in areas where human activity is impacting foothill chaparral.