Arizona is a fantastic state to spot sparrows as 31 of the 44 species classed as regularly in North America occurring are found here. Many of these species remain in the state all year, but many more arrive to spend the warm winters.
This guide will help you identify the 31 species of sparrows by sight and sound that you can spot in Arizona. Also, find out what time of year to spot them and some fun facts.
It is worth taking the time to get to know these energetic little songbirds that you will frequently spot and hear as they are fun to watch. Juncos and Towhees are also sparrows, so they are included in this guide.
Birders often describe sparrows as little brown jobs, so it is evident that it can be a challenge for even an experienced birder to recognize them.
Many sparrows have distinctive head markings and often migrate so that you can discount them at certain times of the year. These two pieces of information help with identification and are included in this guide.
Sparrows mainly eat seeds and insects, and they will often come to backyard feeders. Find out the other species of birds that regularly visit Arizona and print a free ID chart.
This guide will help you identify the types of sparrows spotted in Arizona according to avibase and uses data collected from bird watchers on ebird to give real information about when these birds can be spotted.
When to Spot Sparrows in Arizona
Knowing when you are most likely to spot sparrows can help reduce the guesswork with these similar-looking birds.
Sparrows in Arizona in summer:
- Botteri’s Sparrow
- Cassin’s Sparrow
Sparrows in Arizona during migration:
- Swamp Sparrow
- Clay-colored Sparrow
Sparrows in Arizona all year:
- Abert’s Towhee
- House Sparrow
- Song Sparrow
- Chipping Sparrow
- Black-throated Sparrow
- Spotted Towhee
- Canyon Towhee
- Lark Sparrow
- Rufous-winged Sparrow
- Green-tailed Towhee
- Yellow-eyed Junco
- Rufous-crowned Sparrow
- Black-chinned Sparrow
- Five-striped Sparrow
Sparrows in Arizona in winter:
- White-crowned Sparrow
- Dark-eyed Junco
- Lincoln’s Sparrow
- Brewer’s Sparrow
- Vesper Sparrow
- Savannah Sparrow
- Lark Bunting
- White-throated Sparrow
- Grasshopper Sparrow
- Sagebrush Sparrow
- Fox Sparrow
- Baird’s Sparrow
- Bell’s Sparrow
Identifying Sparrow’s Songs
If you learn a few of the songs of sparrows by listening to the audio recordings in the guide, it will help, especially with some of the more distinctive sparrow songs. Such as White-throated Sparrows that sing long slow notes that change pitch and sound like a person whistling.
Also, how about the strange buzz of the Grasshopper Sparrow? Have you heard them?
Sparrows in Arizona All Year
Abert’s Towhees are the second most frequently spotted sparrows in Arizona all year. They do not migrate and appear in 16% of summer checklists and 24% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
Abert’s Towhees are large grayish-brown sparrows, about the size of a robin, with rusty colors under their tail.
- Melozone aberti
- Length: 8.3-9.1 in (21.2-23.1 cm)
- Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz (42.5-54.9 g)
- Wingspan: 10.4-11.6 in (26.5-29.5 cm)
They are found on the ground in dry habitats in dense undergrowth by desert streams and riverbeds in a very small area predominantly in southwestern Arizona.
Abert’s Towhees forage for insects such as beetles, ants, caterpillars, cicadas, and grasshoppers. They will also eat some seeds, especially grasses, in winter.
Abert’s Towhees sounds: Male Abert’s Towhees’ song often starts with a few short notes and then speeds up.
Nests of Abert’s Towhees are built in dense vegetation about five feet above the ground. The nest is made from leaves and bark, and grass.
They lay up to four eggs, and these take around two weeks to hatch and a further two weeks for the young to leave the nest. After that, however, the parents look after the young for another month.
Attract Abert’s Towhees to your yard by adding a water feature such as a birdbath and adding native plants. They will also visit ground feeders for seed.
Fun fact: Abert’s Towhees have one of the smallest ranges of any bird in North America.
House Sparrows are an introduced species in Arizona that can be spotted here all year. They do not migrate and occur in 20% of both summer and winter checklists for the state.
House Sparrows are another introduced species that have done very well and are now one of the most common birds in North America. They have gray and brown heads and white cheeks, with a black bib. Their backs are black and brown, and their bellies are gray. Female House sparrows are browner all over and lack the black bib.
- Passer domesticus
- Length: 5.9-6.7 in (15-17 cm)
- Weight: 0.9-1.1 oz (27-30 g)
- Wingspan: 7.5-9.8 in (19-25 cm)
House Sparrows live in the US and southern Canada all year.
You can find House Sparrows near houses and buildings, and they can be pretty tame and may even eat out of your hand. However, they can cause problems for native birds as they do not migrate and get the best nesting sites before native birds arrive.
House Sparrows eat mostly grain and seed as well as discarded food. They can be considered a pest because they are non-native, but they are found in backyards even if you do not feed them.
House Sparrow sounds: Their song is a simple series of notes.
Nests of House Sparrows are hidden away in small openings in buildings or dense vegetation or nest boxes. Nests are made from dry grass and plant materials and lined with feathers and other soft materials.
They lay up to eight eggs and as many as four broods a year. Their eggs take under two weeks to hatch and a further two weeks for the chicks to fledge.
Attract House Sparrows to your backyard feeders with most kinds of birdseed, including millet, corn, and sunflower seeds.
Fun fact: As well as North America, House Sparrows have been introduced to South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Song Sparrows can be spotted in Arizona all year and are often resident all year. However, they also migrate here from northern breeding grounds in the winter, increasing their numbers.
They are most common here from mid-September to May, recorded in 14% of winter checklists. They also occur in 9% of summer checklists.
Song sparrows are not as remarkable looking as other backyard birds, but these predominantly brown-streaked birds use their almost constant song to attract mates in spring and summer.
- Melospiza melodia
- Length: 4.7-6.7 in (12-17 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-1.9 oz (12-53 g)
- Wingspan: 7.1-9.4 in (18-24 cm)
Song Sparrow live all year in the northern US States. Those that breed in Canada migrate to southern US states for winter.
You can find Song Sparrows in open, shrubby, and wet areas, often perched on a low shrub singing. They are often found at backyard feeders.
Song Sparrows eat a wide variety of insects and plants, including beetles, caterpillars, midges, spiders, and earthworms. They will also eat buckwheat, sunflower seeds, raspberries, wild cherries, blackberries, wheat, and rice.
Song Sparrow sounds: They make a series of unconnected buzzing, trills, and notes rather than a melodious song. They also make sharp alarm calls and chatter calls when in groups.
Nests of Song Sparrows are made from grass and other plant material woven together and lined with soft grass and hair. They lay up to six eggs, which take around two weeks to hatch and just under two weeks for the young to leave the nest.
Attract Song Sparrows to your backyard by putting black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and nyjer on platform feeders.
Fun fact: A study has found that Song Sparrows mix their playlist of songs, so they do not repeat and potentially bore prospective females!
Chipping Sparrows can be seen in Arizona all year. They spend the breeding season in the north of the state and are recorded in 5% of summer checklists. However, they can be spotted in winter in the south of the state and occur in 10% of winter checklists.
Chipping Sparrows are slender, long-tailed birds with a grayish belly and brown and black-streaked back, with a rusty crown and black eye line. In winter, the colors are more subdued.
- Spizella passerina
- Length: 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz (11-16 g)
- Wingspan: 8.3 in (21 cm)
Chipping Sparrows spend their summer breeding in the US and Canada before flying to Mexico and Florida for winter. Some remain all year in the southern US states.
You can find Chipping Sparrows in small flocks on the ground, often in woods and parks with trees.
Chipping Sparrow sounds: They get their name from the sharp ‘chip’ call they make. Their distinctive song is a stuttering trill.
Nests of Chipping Sparrows are off the ground, hidden in trees or shrubs, and are built by females. The nests are made from dried grass and small roots, but they are very basic and not very dense.
Chipping Sparrows lay up to seven eggs and up to three broods a year. The eggs take around two weeks to hatch, and the young fledge in under two weeks.
Attract Chipping Sparrows to your backyard with seeds or cracked corn on open feeders such as hoppers or platforms.
Fun fact: A group of Chipping Sparrows is known as a tournament.
Black-throated Sparrows can be spotted in Arizona all year, and they are recorded in around 10% of both summer and winter checklists.
Black-throated Sparrows are one of the most easily recognized sparrows with their distinctive black throat and two bright white stripes on each side of their gray heads. The rest of them is pale underneath and grayish-brown on the back.
- Amphispiza bilineata
- Length: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-0.5 oz (11-15 g)
- Wingspan: 7.7 in (19.5 cm)
Black-throated Sparrows are sparrows of southwestern US states. Those that breed further north in their range migrate, but those in the south and Mexico remain all year.
You can find Black-throated Sparrows on the ground in open areas in canyons and desert scrub. They eat insects in summer and fallen seeds in winter.
Black-throated Sparrow sounds: The males’ song is a mix of some low notes, followed by a buzz and then a trill. The song is quite distinctive once you hear it a few times.
Nests of Black-throated Sparrows are low down in shrubs and made from desert plant material made into a cup shape and lined with soft grass and animal hair.
They lay up to five eggs, which take up to two weeks to hatch and a further ten days for the young to leave the nest.
Attract Black-throated Sparrows to your backyard with black oil sunflower seeds.
Fun fact: Black-throated Sparrows do not drink water during the hot desert summer and instead get all their moisture from the insects they eat.
Spotted Towhees are residents of Arizona all year, and they are recorded in around 11% of summer checklists and 7% of winter checklists.
Spotted Towhees are large sparrows that are black on the head, throat, and back in the males and brown in the females. Both males and females have reddish-brown sides and white bellies, with white spots on their wings and back and long tails.
- Pipilo maculatus
- Length: 6.7-8.3 in (17-21 cm)
- Weight: 1.2-1.7 oz (33-49 g)
- Wingspan: 11.0 in (28 cm)
Spotted Towhees live in western US states, but those inland in the north migrate south to Texas after breeding down.
Spotted Towhees can be found on the ground in dense tangles of shrubs scratching around for insects, including beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, wasps, and bees. They also eat acorns, berries, and seeds.
Spotted Towhee sounds: Songs are short notes followed by fast trills.
Nests of Spotted Towhees are usually on or near the ground and made from leaves, stems, and bark lined with softer material. They lay up to six eggs, which take around two weeks to hatch and a further ten days for the young to fledge.
Attract Spotted Towhees to your yard if you leave overgrown borders, and they will visit platform feeders or ground feeders for Black Oil Sunflower seeds, Hulled Sunflower seeds, Cracked Corn, Millet, and Milo.
Fun fact: Spotted Towhee males spend most of their mornings singing when trying to attract a mate.
Canyon Towhees do not migrate and can be spotted in Arizona all year. They appear in 9% of summer checklists and 7% of winter checklists for the state.
Canyon Towhees are plain grayish-brown sparrows with long tails and plump bodies. Although they look similar to California Towhees, their range does not overlap.
- Melozone fusca
- Length: 8.3-9.8 in (21-25 cm)
- Weight: 1.3-1.9 oz (37-53 g)
- Wingspan: 11.5 in (29.21 cm)
Canyon Towhees are resident all year in southwestern US states and Mexico.
You can find Canyon Towhees on the ground in desert grassland foraging mainly for seeds and berries. However, they will also eat some grasshoppers and other insects.
Canyon Towhee sounds: Their song is fast, stuttering, and two-toned.
Nests of Canyon Towhees are placed near the trunk of trees and large shrubs, so they are well supported and hidden. The nest is made by the female from grass and plant material and is lined with soft grass and animal hair.
Attract Canyon Towhees to your backyard with black oil sunflower seeds, milo, millet, and oats scattered on the ground. However, they are shy birds that can be hard to attract.
Fun fact: Canyon Towhees will nest when the twice-yearly desert rains are due, which provides a sudden abundance of plants and insects.
Lark Sparrows are more commonly seen during the breeding season in Arizona, but they are spotted here all year. They are recorded in 5% of summer checklists and 4% of winter checklists.
The small Lark Sparrow has highly-distinctive features. It has a brown and white striped crown, brown-streaked back, white belly, and brown, white-edged tail.
- Chondestes grammacus
- Length: 5.9-6.7 in (15-17 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.2 oz (24-33 g)
- Wingspan: 11.0 in (28 cm)
Lark Sparrows breed in most US states, except towards the east. They also breed in some southern Canadian Provinces. Winter is spent in Mexico, but birds along the Pacific Coast, mainly in California and some southern states, remain all year.
You can find Lark Sparrows on the bare, open ground like grasslands, but they also favor trees and pastures with a few scattered shrubs.
Lark Sparrows will feast on many insects like grasshoppers, caterpillars, and beetles in summer and mostly seeds, grasses, and weeds during the winter.
Lark Sparrow sounds: The males’ song is a happy series of whistles, buzzes, and churr sounds.
Nests of Lark Sparrows are built by both males and females. The male will place twigs at the site, but females will do the actual construction. The nests can be on the ground, in low trees, and even in crevices in rocky cliffs.
The female creates an open cup made with grass, weeds, animal hair, and twigs. There are up to six eggs in a nest, and they take around twelve days to hatch and an additional ten days for the young to leave the nest.
Attract Lark Sparrows to your backyard with their favorite food, seeds.
Fun fact: Male Lark Sparrows take 5 minutes to dance during their courting ritual.
Rufous-winged Sparrows do not migrate and can be spotted mostly in the south of Arizona. They are residents all year and appear in 4% of summer and winter checklists.
Rufous-winged Sparrows are small, long-tailed birds with red and gray stripes on the top of their heads and a red line from the back of their eye.
They have a black mustache on their throat while their chests and bellies are plain gray. Their backs are finely-streaked with black and brown, and they have a red patch on their wing.
- Peucaea carpalis
- Length: 15 cm ( 5.75 in)
- Weight: 14 g (0.5 oz)
- Wingspan: 21 cm (8.25 in)
Rufous-winged Sparrows are resident all year in western Mexico and southern Arizona.
You can find Rufous-winged Sparrows year-round in desert grasslands scattered mesquite, acacia, hackberry, and scattered cacti and grasses. You can also find them in washes with sandy bottoms, brushy irrigation canals, and creeks with broad-leaved trees.
Rufous-winged Sparrows typically hop on the ground for food as they collect seeds and insects. They catch insects from branches and may occasionally take a short flight to capture them.
Rufous-winged Sparrow call/song:
Nests of Rufous-winged Sparrows are often built within cacti or thorny bushes. They are made with grass, twigs, and barks lined with softer materials. The female lays two to five eggs that can take up to two weeks to hatch.
Fun Fact: Rufous-winged Sparrows are small and shy, and you can hardly see them except when the males sing atop perches.
Although they can be seen all year, Green-tailed Towhees are more frequently seen in winter in the south of Arizona and are recorded in 4% of winter checklists.
You can also spot them in the north of the state, mainly during spring and fall migration. However, some stay in summer, and they occur in 3% of summer checklists.
Green-tailed Towhees are large sparrows but small for towhees. They are gray with olive-green wings, backs, and tails, and they have a red crown.
- Pipilo chlorurus
- Length: 7.25 in (18.4 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.4 oz (21.5-39.4 g)
Green-tailed Towhees breed in western US states and migrate to southwestern US states and Mexico for winter. They are common in the mountainous west in summer.
You can find Green-tailed Towhees on the ground in dense shrubby vegetation in summer and desert grasslands and thickets, often near streams, in winter. They eat seeds, insects, and berries.
Green-tailed Towhee sounds: Their song is a pleasant series of whistles and slight buzzing.
Nests of Green-tailed Towhees are low in dense vegetation and are built by females from twigs, bark, and other plant material and lined with soft grass and animal hair.
They lay up to five eggs which take just under two weeks to hatch and around a further two weeks for the young to leave the nest.
Fun fact: Female Green-tailed Towhees distract potential predators by quietly leaving the nest and then running around with their tails raised near the nest predator.
Yellow-eyed Juncos do not migrate and can be spotted all year in Arizona. They are mainly seen in the southeast of the state and occur in 6% of the summer checklists and 2% of winter checklists.
Yellow-eyed Juncos are medium-sized, striking birds with bright yellow eyes and are predominantly gray. They have reddish backs and wings, and their bellies are white.
Their upper bill is black, and the lower bill is yellow. Males and females have similar colorings, but juveniles have brown eyes, backs, and breasts, and their chests and bellies are finely streaked.
- Junco phaeonotus
- Length: 16 cm ( 6.25 in)
- Weight: 20 g (0.7 oz)
- Wingspan: 25 cm (9.75 in)
Yellow-eyed Juncos do not migrate and can be found in Mexico and just across the border into southern parts of Arizona and New Mexico.
You can find Yellow-eyed Juncos in mountainous pine and oak woodland forests. They don’t have usual migration patterns but may move to lower elevations during winter.
Yellow-eyed Juncos often forage on the ground by scratching around and scattering leaf litter. They often look for seeds and insects, but they also eat berries, fruits, and flowers.
Yellow-eyed Junco song:
Nests of Yellow-eyed Juncos are usually located in a clump of grass or hidden behind a rock or underneath a log. There are often three to five eggs in a nest made of dried grass and mammal hair. The female incubates the eggs for two weeks.
Attract Yellow-eyed Juncos to your backyard by offering them sunflower and other seeds in the winter. Ideally, you can use platform feeders or scatter these seeds on the ground.
Fun Fact: Yellow-eyed Juncos sometimes build nests in a tree, a hollow, or in rain gutters instead of on the ground.
Rufous-crowned Sparrows are residents of Arizona all year. They do not migrate and are recorded in 5% of summer checklists and 2% of winter checklists for the state.
Rufous-crowned Sparrows are large sparrows that are gray underneath and streaked brown on the back. They have reddish-brown crowns and white and dark stripes on their faces.
- Aimophila ruficeps
- Length: 5.9-6.3 in (15-16 cm)
- Weight: 0.6-0.7 oz (16-21 g)
Rufous-crowned Sparrows are resident all year in southwestern US states.
You can find Rufous-crowned Sparrows on the ground in dry, rocky hillsides that have vegetation for them to hide. In spring, when males are singing, is the best time to spot them.
They eat insects in spring and summer and fallen seeds and other plant material in winter.
Rufous-crowned Sparrow sounds:
Nests of Rufous-crowned Sparrows are on the ground, hidden in vegetation, and built by females from dried grass and some twigs. They lay up to five eggs which take around two weeks to hatch and a further nine days for the young to leave the nest.
Fun Fact: Rufous-crowned Sparrows distract predators from nests by pretending to have a broken wing or by pretending to fall from a branch.
Black-chinned Sparrows can be spotted in Arizona all year and are recorded in 1% of summer and winter checklists.
Black-chinned Sparrows are plain and mainly gray overall but with brown backs and wings. Males have the black patch on their throat, but the females and non-breeding males don’t. Their bills are pink, which contrasts with their gray heads, and makes them easier to spot.
- Spizella atrogularis
- Length: 15 cm (5.75 in)
- Weight: 11 g (0.4 oz)
- Wingspan: 23 cm (9 in)
Black-chinned Sparrows breed in southwestern US states and migrate south to Mexico for winter.
You can find Black-chinned Sparrows in arid, desert-like environments. They prefer to live in remote and rocky areas with sagebrush, pine-juniper vegetation, and other brushes and scrubs. They may move south of their breeding locations in winter, usually to lower elevations.
Black-chinned Sparrows spend much of their time foraging for seeds on the ground and under shrubs. They feed on insects during the summer and more grains and seeds during the winter. They may capture insects while flying.
Black-chinned Sparrow song:
Nests of Black-chinned Sparrows are found near the ground and built within a dense shrub. They are made of grass, weeds, rootlets, and yucca fibers and made soft with hair and feathers. There may be as many as five eggs per nest, and they take about a week to hatch. It takes as long as fifteen days for them to learn how to fly, and in the meantime, their parents continue to care for them until they do.
Fun Fact: Black-chinned Sparrows are on the list of protected species by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Their habitat is endangered, and their nests are highly-susceptible to predation.
Five-striped Sparrows are not very common in Arizona, but they do not migrate, and they can be spotted mainly in the south of the state.
Five-striped Sparrows are easily identified by the five vertical, black, and white stripes on their throats. They have a white eyebrow and white outline on their eyes. Their bodies are generally gray, so these stripes really stand out.
They even have a black spot on their gray chest. Their backs are plain brown. Males and females have the same colorings, but juveniles have pale colors, and the five stripes are less defined.
- Amphispiza quinquestriata
- Length: 15 cm (6 in)
- Weight: 20 g (0.7 oz)
- Wingspan: 23 cm (9 in)
Five-striped Sparrows have a small range in northern Mexico and just across the US border.
You can find Five-striped Sparrows amidst rocky hillsides, steep brushy slopes, thorn forests, and dry open woods. They favor areas with mesquite, acacia, hackberry, and ocotillo. Males love to perform their songs on the stems of the ocotillo.
Five-striped Sparrows love to eat insects during the summer. They forage for food on the ground or around bushes and feast on grasshoppers, caterpillars, ants, moths, and other insects. They also love to eat seeds and berries. Unlike other sparrows, they don’t usually try to capture insects in the air.
Five-striped Sparrow Song:
Nests of Five-striped sparrows are often found up to five inches above the ground, nestled in a clump of grass or a low shrub. The female builds the nest out of grass and animal hair while the male sings persistently as a way to ward off predators.
Females lay up to four eggs, and they hatch after about thirteen days. The young leave the nest around nine days after hatching, even though they’re only able to make short flights.
Fun Fact: Five-striped Sparrows were an unknown species until the late 1950s, when they were discovered nesting in several areas in Arizona.
Sparrows in Arizona in Summer
Botteri’s Sparrows spend the breeding season in Arizona and occur in 1% of summer checklists. They are mostly spotted in the southeast of the state from May to September.
Botteri’s Sparrows are medium-sized, pale birds that blend in with their desert surroundings. Their head is finely-streaked with red and tan lines. Their bodies are generally plain and light brown-colored. Their wings are rust-brown, and their bellies are grayish-tan. Males and females are similar. Juveniles are browner overall.
- Peucaea botterii
- Length: 15 cm (6 in)
- Weight: 20 g (0.7 oz)
- Wingspan: 23 cm (9 in)
Botteri’s Sparrows do not migrate and live in Mexico and just across the US border.
You can find Botteri’s Sparrows in semi-desert grasslands. Areas with native sacaton grass are a preferred habitat because they form dense clumps that provide necessary cover, especially for fledgling birds. There are also Botteri’s Sparrows that live in coastal prairies with scattered shrubs.
Botteri’s Sparrows’ favorite food is grasshoppers which they flush out of shrubs. They either chase them on foot or fly after them. When grasshoppers are nowhere to be found, they settle for beetles and their larvae, caterpillars and butterflies, seeds, and grasses.
Botteri’s Sparrow song:
Nests of Botteri’s Sparrows are found low to the ground, shrouded by dense clumps of tall grass. They are made of grass, rootlets, and lined with softer grass. There may be about five eggs per nest, and they take about a couple of weeks to hatch. Both parents share in the responsibility of their growing family.
Fun Fact: Botteri’s Sparrows were named after their discoverer, Matteo Botteri, an ornithologist.
Cassin’s Sparrows are not very common in Arizona, but they are mainly spotted here from July to September.
Cassin’s Sparrows are gray and brown with fine streaks on their head and throat. Their eyes have a white outline with a dark brown line extending from them. Their chest and bellies are lightly streaked with brown. Some birds have reddish tones.
- Peucaea cassinii
- Length: 15 cm (6 in)
- Weight: 20 g (0.7 oz)
- Wingspan: 23 cm (9 in)
Cassin’s Sparrows can be found in central US states and Mexico. Those further north in the range migrate short distances south for winter.
You can find Cassin’s Sparrows in semi-arid environments like deserts, grasslands with yucca, mesquite, oak, acacia trees, and shrubs. They prefer tall, dense grass for nesting and protection for their fledglings while they need proper perches on which to launch for flight and to display their melodious singing.
Cassin’s Sparrows feast on grasshoppers, caterpillars and beetles, and other small insects during summer. In winter, they mostly eat seeds from grasses and weeds.
Cassin’s Sparrow song:
Nests of Cassin’s Sparrows are often concealed amid tall grass. The nests are tunnel-like, made of grass, rootlets, flowers, and animal hair, and placed on the ground or at the bottom of cacti. There may be three to five eggs in a nest that takes about two weeks to hatch. Both parents incubate their eggs.
Fun Fact: The male Cassin’s Sparrow may be plain and drab, but they make up for it in flair with their “skylarking”. They fly in the air and glide down while singing their song during the breeding season.
Sparrows in Arizona in Winter
White-crowned Sparrows are the most frequently spotted sparrows in Arizona during winter and appear in 37% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
They are more commonly seen from September to May, but a few stay all year, and they appear in 4% of summer checklists.
White-crowned Sparrows are large grayish sparrows with long tails, small bills, and bold black and white stripes on their heads.
- Zonotrichia leucophrys
- Length: 5.9-6.3 in (15-16 cm)
- Weight: 0.9-1.0 oz (25-28 g)
- Wingspan: 8.3-9.4 in (21-24 cm)
White-crowned Sparrows breed in Alaska and arctic Canada before heading south to the lower 48 and Mexico for winter. However, some may remain along the Pacific Coast and the mountainous west all year.
You can find White-crowned Sparrows in weedy fields, along roadsides, forest edges, and in yards foraging for seeds of weeds and grasses or fruit such as elderberries and blackberries.
White-crowned Sparrow sounds: The males’ song is a clear whistle, followed by a series of chaotic whistles and finishing with a buzz. Calls are usually short and sharp. Females rarely call or sing.
Nests of White-crowned Sparrows are made from twigs, grass, moss, and pine needles, often low to the ground in shrubs or on the ground in the tundra. They lay up to seven eggs, which take up to two weeks to hatch and around nine days for the chicks to fledge.
Attract White-crowned Sparrows to your backyard with sunflower seeds, and they will also eat seeds dropped by other birds at the feeders.
Fun fact: Young White-crowned Sparrows take a further week or two to learn to fly after leaving the nest.
Dark-eyed Juncos are the fourth most frequently seen sparrows during winter in Arizona and are recorded in 19% of winter checklists. They are more commonly spotted from October to March, but some can be spotted all year and occur in 5% of summer checklists.
Dark-eyed Juncos are sparrows that are different a color depending on the state. They are generally slate-colored in the east and black, white, and brown in the west.
- Junco hyemalis
- Length: 5.5-6.3 in (14-16 cm)
- Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz (18-30 g)
- Wingspan: 7.1-9.8 in (18-25 cm)
Dark-eyed Juncos remain resident all year in the northeastern and western US states and the Appalachian Mountains. Those that breed in Canada and Alaska migrate south in winter to the United States.
You can find Dark-eyed Junco in open and partially wooded areas, often on the ground, and they are common across the continent. They mainly feed on seeds but will also eat some insects.
Dark-eyed Junco sounds: A simple song of a series of fast, high-pitched even notes.
Nests of Dark-eyed Juncos are usually on the ground, hidden in vegetation, woven from plant material, and lined with grass and hair. They lay up to six eggs, which take around two weeks to hatch and two weeks to fledge.
Attract Dark-eyed Juncos to backyard feeders with a variety of seeds such as black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, millet, and peanuts. Platform feeders or seeds scattered on the ground are best.
Fun fact: Dark-eyed Juncos are known as snowbirds as they arrive in the United States in winter.
Lincoln’s Sparrows can be spotted in winter in the south of Arizona and appear in 10% of winter checklists. They are most frequently spotted from September to May, but a few can be spotted during migration in the north of the state.
Lincoln’s Sparrows are medium-sized sparrows, mainly gray in color and with streaks of brown across their wings and chest and white bellies. Their heads may look pointed when they raise their crown feathers. Its eyering is buffy and with a gray eyebrow area and dark eye line.
- Melospiza lincolnii
- Length: 5.1-5.9 in (13-15 cm)
- Weight: 0.6-0.7 oz (17-19 g)
- Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in (19-22 cm)
Lincoln’s Sparrows breed in Canada and parts of western US states and migrate to southern US states, the Pacific Coast, and Mexico for winter. They can be seen during migration in the rest of the US.
You can find Lincoln’s Sparrow mostly in densely-covered shrubs and thickets, particularly near streams and wet or damp areas. They migrate to tropical but humid forests during the winter.
Lincoln’s Sparrows mostly eat weeds and grasses during the winter. During the breeding season, they will eat insects like spiders, ants, and caterpillars, but they still feed plants to their young.
Lincoln’s Sparrow sounds: Their song is a fast trill of notes and some buzzes that is one of the most tuneful of all the sparrows.
Nest of Lincoln’s Sparrows are built by females on the ground, protected and screened by thick shrubs. The nests are lined with moss or grass, and they lay around four eggs.
The eggs take up to two weeks to hatch, and the young leave the nest in under two weeks after hatching. Their flying skills improve fast, and by the 6th day, they can fly more than ten meters.
Fun fact: Lincoln’s Sparrows are very secretive birds and are not often seen but can be recognized by their sweet song.
Brewer’s Sparrows are winter birds in Arizona and are more commonly spotted from mid-August until May, but a few stay all year. They are recorded in 1% of the summer checklists and 5% of winter checklists.
Brewer’s Sparrows are gray underneath and streaked brown on their backs. They have long tails with a notch at the end and small bills. Brewer’s Sparrows are the smallest sparrow in North America.
- Spizella breweri
- Length: 5.1-5.9 in (13-15 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-0.5 oz (11-14 g)
- Wingspan: 7.1-7.9 in (18-20 cm)
Brewer’s Sparrows breed in western US states and western Canada and migrate south for winter to southwestern US states and Mexico. They are very common sparrows in their range.
You can find Brewer’s Sparrows in arid sagebrush foraging for insects, such as caterpillars, grasshoppers, and spiders. In winter, they will also eat seeds.
Brewer’s Sparrow sounds: Their song is a buzzing sound that often descends and slows down.
Nests of Brewer’s Sparrows are built by females in shrubs from dry grass. They lay up to five eggs which take around eleven days to hatch and around a further eight days for the young to leave the nest.
Fun fact: Brewer’s Sparrows are small but mighty, and they will mob and chase predators away from their nests.
Vesper Sparrows are more commonly seen in Arizona during winter and occur in 4% of these checklists.
Vesper Sparrows are quite large sparrows that are mostly brown on the back, with white streaks and white bellies.
- Pooecetes gramineus
- Length: 5.1-6.3 in (13-16 cm)
- Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz (20-28 g)
- Wingspan: 9.4 in (24 cm)
Vesper Sparrows spend the summer breeding in the northern half of the US, southern Canada, and down into southwestern US states. Then, they migrate to southern US states and Mexico for winter.
You can find Vesper Sparrows on the ground in open grasslands and weedy fields and meadows. They eat seeds of grasses and weeds and some insects and spiders.
Vesper Sparrow sounds: Males start with a few low whistles followed by a series of rising and falling trills.
Nests of Vesper Sparrows are on the ground and made from grass, bark, and moss. They lay up to six eggs which take up to two weeks to hatch and a further one or two weeks for the young to leave the nest.
Fun fact: Male Vesper Sparrows run after females with their wings raised, leaping into the air and singing to attract their attention.
Savannah Sparrows spend the winter in Arizona and are more commonly spotted from mid-August until April. They occur in 4% of winter checklists.
If you get close enough to a Savannah Sparrow, you will see this brown bird has a distinctive yellow patch by the eye. They also have short tails and a streaky brown coloring.
- Passerculus sandwichensis
- Length: 4.3-5.9 in (11-15 cm)
- Weight: 0.5-1.0 oz (15-28 g)
- Wingspan: 7.9-8.7 in (20-22 cm)
Savannah Sparrows breed in Canada and the US before migrating to southern US states and Mexico for winter.
You can find Savannah Sparrows on the ground in open areas, such as grassland, foraging for insects and spiders in the breeding season, and seeds in the winter.
Savannah Sparrow sounds: An almost rushed sounding song which is a few fast notes followed by a buzzing trill.
Nests of Savannah Sparrows are on or near the ground and made from grass. They lay up to six eggs, which take around two weeks to hatch and a further one or two weeks for the young to fledge.
These birds do not regularly visit feeders, but they may visit your yard if you keep brush piles, have long grass, and live near fields.
Fun fact: Although they are one of the most common songbirds in North America, they are considered a threatened species by the ICUN.
Lark Buntings are winter birds in Arizona, and they are recorded in 1% of winter checklists. They are spotted from August to February in the south of the state.
Male Lark Buntings are one of the easiest of the sparrow family to recognize. Males are black with a white wing patch. However, females and non-breeding males are brown-streaked in color, but they also have white in their wings.
- Calamospiza melanocorys
- Length: 5.5-7.1 in (14-18 cm)
- Weight: 1.3-1.5 oz (35.3-41.3 g)
- Wingspan: 9.8-11.0 in (25-28 cm)
Lark Buntings breed in central states and southern Canada and migrate to the southern Great Plains and northern Mexico for winter. However, some birds remain all year in southern US states.
You can find Lark Bunting on the ground in open grasslands and prairie with sagebrush. They eat seeds, insects, and some fruit.
Lark Bunting Call/Song:
The nests of Lark Bunting are built by both males and females and are made from grass and leaves lined with soft grass and animal hair. They lay up to five eggs that take around eleven days to hatch and a further week for the young to leave the nest.
Fun fact: Male Lark Buntings sing while flying back down from height in the breeding season.
White-throated Sparrows are winter birds in Arizona and start arriving as early as September, and some stay until May, but November until April are the best months to spot them.
White-throated Sparrows have a distinctive black and white striped head, bright white throat, and yellow between the eye and bill. Their backs are brown, and underneath is gray. There are two color differences with birds having either tan-striped or white-striped heads.
- Zonotrichia albicollis
- Length: 6.3-7.1 in (16-18 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.1 oz (22-32 g)
- Wingspan: 7.9-9.1 in (20-23 cm)
White-throated Sparrows are migratory birds, breeding mainly in Canada before heading south in winter to eastern and southern US states and the Pacific Coast.
You can find White-throated Sparrows on the ground in forests and woods and along the edges of wooded areas, often in large flocks.
White-throated Sparrows eat mainly seeds of grasses and weeds as well as fruits such as grape, sumac, mountain ash, blueberry, blackberry, and dogwood. They will also eat many insects from the forest floor, especially in summer.
White-throated Sparrow sounds: Their distinctive whistle is a few long, slow notes that change pitch. They can sound like a person whistling.
Nests of White-throated Sparrows are built by females, usually on the ground or low to the ground, in dense vegetation. They are made from moss and twigs, lined with softer material such as grass and animal hair.
They lay up to six eggs, which take around two weeks to hatch and a further week to two weeks for the young to fledge.
Attract White-throated Sparrows to your backyard feeders with millet and black oil sunflower seeds on platform feeders.
Fun fact: White-throated Sparrows always breed with the opposite color morph, either tan-striped or white-striped heads.
Grasshopper Sparrows can be spotted in Arizona during the fall migration in July and August and winter from October to February.
Grasshopper Sparrows are tiny birds with light and dark brown streaking and a distinctive orange or yellow stripe above their eye. They have short tails, large bills, and pale bellies.
- Ammodramus savannarum
- Length: 4.3-4.5 in (10.8-11.5 cm)
- Weight: 0.5-0.7 oz (14-20 g)
- Wingspan: 7.9 in (20 cm)
Grasshopper Sparrows breed in central and eastern US states, California’s coast, and parts of northwestern US states. They spend winter in southeastern US states, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
You can find Grasshopper Sparrows on the ground in grassland and prairies or other open areas hunting for grasshoppers and other insects and spiders. In winter, they mostly eat fallen seeds.
Grasshopper Sparrow sounds: The buzzy insect-like song of the Grasshopper Sparrow is how they get their name.
Nests of Grasshopper Sparrows are on the ground in vegetation. They are made out of grasses and plant material, and they create a roof by weaving surrounding stalks and creating an entrance on the side.
They lay up to seven eggs four times during the breeding season. The eggs take up to two weeks to hatch and a further week or so for the young to leave the nest.
Fun Fact: Grasshopper Sparrows violently shake their grasshopper prey to remove the large legs so that they can feed the bodies to their young.
Sagebrush Sparrows are not very common here, but they are winter birds in Arizona that can be spotted from October to February.
Sagebrush Sparrows are medium-sized birds that are easier to recognize than other sparrows. Their head is gray with a white patch in front of their eyes. Their back has streaks of dark brown, and they have a dark-gray stripe on their throats. Their chests and bellies are white with a dark spot in the center.
- Artemisiospiza nevadensis
- Length: 16 cm (6.25 in)
- Weight: 20 g (0.7 oz)
- Wingspan: 21 cm. (8.25 in)
Sagebrush Sparrows are found inland in western US states. They breed in more northern areas and migrate south for winter. Some may remain all year in the middle of their range.
You can find Sagebrush Sparrows among undisturbed sagebrush and other shrubs. In winter, they migrate to brushy saltbush lands and other desert-like areas.
During the summer, Sagebrush Sparrows eat plenty of spiders and insects like ants, grasshoppers, and beetles. They also feed on seeds of grasses and weeds.
Sagebrush Sparrows song:
Nests of Sagebrush Sparrows are found within sagebrush or saltbush. They are built low to the ground and made out of twigs and sticks, and lined with grass and weeds. Females lay three to four eggs that hatch within sixteen days. The young leave their nest around eleven days after hatching.
Fun Fact: Sagebrush Sparrows will return to their successful “tried and tested” breeding sites every year.
Fox Sparrows are not common in Arizona, but they spend the winter here and can be spotted from September until April.
Although some species are more gray or dark brown, the Fox Sparrow is aptly named after its fox-red coloring. Its reddish streaks are particularly obvious in its chest area. It is a chunky bird compared to other sparrows.
There are four different color and appearance variations in Fox Sparrows. Red Fox Sparrows are found in eastern areas, and darker ‘sooty’ Fox Sparrows are found along the Pacific Coast. Thick-billed Fox Sparrows are found in California, and Slate-colored Fox Sparrows are found in western US states.
- Passerella iliaca
- Length: 5.9-7.5 in (15-19 cm)
- Weight: 0.9-1.6 oz (26-44 g)
- Wingspan: 10.5-11.4 in (26.7-29 cm)
Fox Sparrows migrate and breed in the north and west of Canada, Alaska, and down as far as California in the western US.
They spend the winter in southeastern US states and along the Pacific coast. Some remain all year on Canada’s Pacific coast, and they can be seen during migration in central and northeastern US states.
You can find Fox Sparrows in wooded areas, undergrowth, and brush. In the winter, they migrate to similar areas, even in well-vegetated suburbs and parks. You may observe them kicking up leaf litter in the air in search of food on the ground.
Insects and seeds are a common diet of Fox Sparrows. At times, they may also eat berries and grasses and crustaceans and marine animals if they’re near the beach.
Fox Sparrow sounds: Males sing a pleasant series of whistles and buzzy notes.
Nests of Fox Sparrow are hidden under dense, low shrubs. They may also build them in low trees but not more than eight feet above the ground. The nest is covered with grass, weeds, and moss but lined with dry grass. For those above ground, twigs are used to toughen up the nest’s walls.
They lay two to five eggs, which take about two weeks to hatch. The young may leave the nest within eleven days of hatching.
Attract Fox Sparrows to your backyard with small seeds and berries and low native shrubs.
Fun fact: The female Fox Sparrow can build a nest in a flash. They can start a nest at sunrise and finish it by dusk!
Baird’s Sparrows are extremely rare to spot in Arizona, but they are recognized as regularly occurring here and are mainly seen in the southeast of the state during winter.
Baird’s Sparrows are medium-sized yellowish-brown birds. They are recognizable because of the narrow, brown streaks on their throats, very much like a necklace on their bodies.
Their heads also have a central dark brown stripe, and their backs have light and dark brown stripes. Their bellies are yellowish or white. Males and females look the same, but juveniles are paler in color.
- Centronyx bairdii
- Length: 14 cm (5.5 in)
- Weight: 23 g (0.8 oz)
- Wingspan: 22 cm (8.5 in)
Baird’s Sparrows breed in the northern Great Plains and migrate south for winter to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.
You can find Baird’s Sparrows in tall grass prairies or mixed grass prairies. Due to their diminishing habitats, they can now be found in ungrazed pastures, grasslands, and agricultural fields.
Baird’s Sparrows stay low and hidden on the ground when foraging for food. They usually walk or hop between clumps of grass to collect seeds and insects.
Baird’s Sparrow song:
Nests of Baird’s Sparrows are usually built in shallow holes on the ground or hidden within clumps of grass. They are made of grass and weeds with soft materials lining the inside. There may be two to six eggs in a nest. The female incubates them for about twelve days.
Fun Fact: Baird’s Sparrows continually shift their breeding regions from year to year in reaction to environmental hazards and roving bison herds.
Bell’s Sparrows are extremely rare to spot in Arizona, but they are recognized as regularly occurring here and are mostly seen in the west of the state during winter.
Bell’s Sparrows are medium-sized sparrows that have a gray head with a white patch in front of the bill. They also have a black outline on their bill, a white eye ring, a black vertical stripe down their throat, a gray back, and a white chest and belly.
Their long, pointy tails are often held upright. Males and Females look the same while Juveniles are brown all over.
- Artemisiospiza belli
- Length: 6.25 in (16 cm)
- Weight: 0.7 oz (20 g)
- Wingspan: 8.25 in (21 cm)
Bell’s Sparrows live in southwestern US states and northwestern Mexico all year.
You can find Bell’s Sparrows in sagebrush habitats which is why they are often misidentified as Sagebrush Sparrows. They are residents of coastal shrubby areas, saltbush, and open, dry habitats.
Bell’s Sparrows usually forage on the ground. They have a habit of scurrying under shrubs for protection. They feed on seeds from shrubs and grasses. They also eat many kinds of insects, such as grasshoppers and beetles.
Bell’s Sparrow song:
Nests of Bell’s Sparrows can be found low to the ground. They are a loose cup of sagebrush, twigs, grass, and bark lined with feathers and fur. The female lays around five eggs that she takes care of for about sixteen days until they hatch. Males defend their territory by singing from a dry perch.
Fun Fact: In 2014, Bell’s Sparrows were proven as a separate species from the Sage Sparrow after 115 years of debate. DNA results from these two birds finally ended the discussion.
Sparrows in Arizona during Migration
Swamp Sparrows are not often spotted in Arizona, but they start arriving as early as September, and some stay until May, but November until February are the best months to spot them.
Swamp Sparrows are dark brown on the back with rusty crowns and wings. They have gray breasts and white throats. Their heads are gray, and they have brown faces with a dark eye line and yellow end to the beak.
- Melospiza georgiana
- Length: 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm)
- Weight: 0.5-0.8 oz (15-23 g)
- Wingspan: 7.1-7.5 in (18-19 cm)
Swamp Sparrows are more located in the east. They breed in Canada and northeastern and North Central US states before migrating to eastern and southern US states and Mexico.
As the name would suggest, Swamp Sparrows are found in wetlands, swamps, bogs, and coastal marshes. They feed on seeds and fruit, especially in winter, and insects in spring.
Swamp Sparrow sounds: Their song is a rapid trill of the same note.
Nests of Swamp Sparrows are usually hidden in vegetation on or close to the ground and made from twigs, leaves, and cattails. The nest is lined with grass and other plant material.
They lay up to six eggs, which take two weeks to hatch, and the young take a further one or two weeks to fledge.
Swamp Sparrows do not visit backyards except in migration to yards with lots of vegetation and water.
Fun fact: Swamp Sparrows sing before dawn when it is still dark.
Clay-colored Sparrows are rarely spotted in Arizona, but they are recognized as regularly occurring here during migration.
These small, plain birds of the northern prairies and Great Plains have distinctive head markings which set them apart from other sparrows. They have a gray collar around their necks and long notched tails.
- Spizella pallida
- Length: 5.1 – 6 in (13 – 15 cm)
- Weight: 0.42 oz (12 g)
- Wingspan: 7.5 in (19 cm)
Clay-colored Sparrows are the most common sparrow you can spot in summer in the northern prairies. They breed in Canada and the northern Great Plains before migrating south to Texas and Mexico.
In summer, you can find Clay-colored Sparrows in shrubland, looking for seeds, leaf buds, or the occasional insect.
Clay-colored Sparrow sounds: Their song is a two-note buzzing sound.
Nests of Clay-colored Sparrows are usually close to the ground and well hidden in vegetation. The female makes them from twigs and grass, and they are lined with softer grasses and animal hair.
They lay up to five eggs which take around two weeks to hatch and a further week for the young to leave the nest.
Fun fact: Young Clay-colored Sparrows leave the nest before they can fly, and they have to run for cover when there is danger.
How to Attract Sparrows to Your Backyard
Sparrows are easy to attract to your yard with these easy to follow tips.
- Provide their favourite seeds which include sunflower seeds nyjer, millet and cracked corn.
- Plant native plants and shrubs to attract insects
- Provide a water feature with clean running water
- Don’t put feeders near sheltered areas where cats may pounce.
Most Commonly Spotted Sparrows in Arizona:
Bird watchers submit checklists on ebird, and this shows how frequently all the sparrows in Arizona are spotted:
- White-crowned Sparrow 24.0%
- Abert’s Towhee 21.0%
- House Sparrow 20.1%
- Dark-eyed Junco 12.7%
- Song Sparrow 12.4%
- Chipping Sparrow 10.3%
- Black-throated Sparrow 9.8%
- Spotted Towhee 8.6%
- Canyon Towhee 8.6%
- Lincoln’s Sparrow 7.2%
- Lark Sparrow 6.0%
- Rufous-winged Sparrow 5.1%
- Green-tailed Towhee 5.0%
- Brewer’s Sparrow 4.4%
- Yellow-eyed Junco 4.2%
- Rufous-crowned Sparrow 3.6%
- Vesper Sparrow 3.3%
- Savannah Sparrow 2.9%
- Lark Bunting 1.0%
- Black-chinned Sparrow 0.9%
- Botteri’s Sparrow 0.9%
- Cassin’s Sparrow 0.7%
- White-throated Sparrow 0.5%
- Grasshopper Sparrow 0.3%
- Sagebrush Sparrow 0.3%
- Five-striped Sparrow 0.3%
- Swamp Sparrow 0.2%
- Fox Sparrow 0.2%
- Clay-colored Sparrow 0.1%
- Baird’s Sparrow 0.1%
- Bell’s Sparrow <0.01%