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Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Aimophila ruficeps ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Rufous-crowned Sparrow Photo

The hot, rocky hillsides of the Southwest can look inhospitable on a baking summer day, but they’re exactly the kind of place Rufous-crowned Sparrows call home. These bulky, long-tailed sparrows forage on the ground beneath sparse shrubs and grasses. These are attractive sparrows with reddish toned upperparts and neat gray underparts, accentuated by a white eyering and a white malar or whisker stripe on the face. Males sing a short, jumbled song with a bubbly quality that recalls a House Wren.

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Sparrows
Sparrows
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Rufous-crowned Sparrows are relatively large sparrows with rounded heads and fairly long tails. The thick, pointed bill is fairly large.

  • Color Pattern

    These are grayish sparrows with streaky backs and and bright reddish-brown crowns. They have a white eyering and a white malar or whisker stripe that’s bordered in black and contrasts with the gray face and underparts.

  • Behavior

    Rufous-crowned Sparrows spend much of their time under the cover of vegetation, often foraging or running across the ground instead of flying. Your best chance to see one in the open is to catch a male as he sings from a higher perch in a shrub or low tree.

  • Habitat

    Look for Rufous-crowned Sparrows on steep, dry, rocky hillsides with plenty of grasses and a scattering of shrubs and small trees, such as sagebrush or scrub oaks. Recently burned areas can provide good, open habitat. The birds tend to avoid areas of dense shrubs.

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Similar Species

Rufous-winged Sparrow occurs only in the extreme southwestern U.S. and adjacent Mexico. It has a plainer face without the white eyering or clean white malar (whisker) stripe of the Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Botteri’s Sparrow also has a very restricted range, and is found in the extreme southwestern U.S. and southernmost Texas. Botteri’s Sparrow is plainer and browner, without the rufous crown and eyestripe, and without the eyering and malar stripe of the Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Chipping Sparrow is much more widespread than the Rufous-crowned Sparrow and is not as restricted to open, dry, rocky hillsides. Chipping Sparrows are smaller, with a shorter tail and smaller bill than the Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Chipping Sparrows in breeding plumage have a white stripe over the eye and a black line through the eye, and white wingbars. Other sparrows with rufous crowns or rufous-and-gray face patterns, are the American Tree Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Field Sparrow, and Bachman’s Sparrow. These species generally do not overlap in range or habitat with the Rufous-crowned Sparrow.

Regional Differences

Rufous-crowned Sparrows along the Pacific coast tend to be smaller and more reddish above than individuals in the Desert Southwest, which are browner above. Individuals from offshore islands such as California’s Channel Islands tend to be darker overall than mainland birds.

Find This Bird

Rufous-crowned Sparrows are habitat specialists, so the first step in finding them is to find a dry, rocky hillside with shrub cover that is not too dense. These birds tend to stay hidden and close to the ground except when singing, so you’ll have best results if you try during spring or early summer when males will be singing in the early morning from exposed perches. At other times of year you’ll need to be patient and keep a distance as you wait for foraging sparrows to move into open spaces between shrubs or patches of grass.