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Black-throated Sparrow

Amphispiza bilineata

Length: 5.5 inches Wingspan: 8.5 inches Seasonality: Extremely rare visitor
ID Keys: Black throat and mask, white eyebrow, white whisker, grayish-brown upperparts, whitish underparts with grayish wash on the sides.

Black-throated Sparrow - Amphispiza bilineataThe Black-throated Sparrow is primarily a bird of arid regions in the West, where they can be quite common even in areas with very sparse vegetation.  While not shy when approached by humans, they do not adapt well to the intrusion of human development in their native habitats.  To ensure adequate water supplies for young, timing of the nesting season usually coincides with the timing of rains.


Can be found in a variety of dry open habitats, including quite barren salt flats with scattered bushes, sagebrush flats, grasslands with scattered cactii, and open pinyon-juniper woodlands.


Feeds on insects and seeds, with the balance tipping towards insects in the summer and towards seeds in the winter.  They will also eat green buds and fresh leaves when available, as well as fruits and berries.  They can survive for long periods without water, drawing water from the insects and vegetation that they eat.


Mostly forages while running along the ground, although they will also forage in desert cactii and shrubs.  Males will sing from high perches during the summer breeding season.


The song of a Black-throated Sparrow is two or three bell-like notes followed by a rapid trill. Calls of a Black-throated Sparrow include a ringing peek, often repeated incessently.


Non-breeder in South Dakota. In their breeding range, Black-throated Sparrows nest in shrubs, typically within a foot or two of the ground. The nest is a small cup, constructed by the female and built of grasses, rootlets, and weed steams, and lined with hair and/or finer grasses. The female lays 2 to 4 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The young hatch after about 12 days, and fledge from the nest 10 to 12 days after hatching.


Summers in much of the interior U.S. West.  Winters in the Southwest U.S. and Mexico, where many birds are permanent residents.


On occasion, Black-throated Sparrows will visit feeder complexes for sunflower seeds and other offerings.

Similar Species:

Black-throated Sparrows could potentially be confused with other sparrow species found in their range:

Sagebrush Sparrow - Artemisiospiza nevadensis Black-chinned Sparrow - Spizella atrogularis Black-chinned Sparrow - Spizella atrogularis Bell's Sparrow - Artemisiospiza belli
Sagebrush Sparrow Black-chinned Sparrow Black-chinned Sparrow Bell's Sparrow

Conservation Status:

Increased development in desert habitat has reduced numbers in some locations.  They do not adapt to a human presence quite as well as some other species. Systematic surveys (Christmas Bird Count, Breeding Bird Survey) over the last 40 years have shown a decline of over 60%. However, they are still found across a very broad geographic area and are common in parts of that range. The IUCN considers the Black-throated Sparrow to be a species of "Least Concern".

Interactive eBird Map:

Click to access an interactive eBird map of Black-throated Sparrow sightings

Further Information:

Photo Information:

September 7th, 2006 -- Near Tucson, Arizona -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Black-throated Sparrow photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Black-throated Sparrow - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Extremely rare visitor.  The SDOU's "Birds of South Dakota" (2002) lists only one occurrence of the species in the state, photographed in Clay County in 1971.

Additional Black-throated Sparrow Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Black-throated Sparrow 1 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 2 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 3 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 4 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 5 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 6 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 7 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 8 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 9 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 10 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 11 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 12 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 13 - Amphispiza bilineataBlack-throated Sparrow 14 - Amphispiza bilineata