Black-chinned Sparrow Life History


Habitat Scrub

Black-chinned Sparrows are locally common in dry brushlands and chaparral from near sea level to 8,000 feet. They associate with sagebrush, rabbitbrush, ceanothus, and other chaparral species. They typically breed on rocky hillsides and winter downslope in desert scrub.

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Food Insects

Black-chinned Sparrows eat insects during the breeding season. They pick insects from trees and shrubs as well as from the ground. In winter they take seeds from grasses and other flowering plants often while perched on a nearby shrub or from the ground.

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Nest Placement

Nest Shrub

Black-chinned Sparrows place their nests about 2 feet above the ground near the center of a dense shrub.

Nest Description

Females and possibly males collect grasses and stems that they weave into a loose cup-shaped nest. They line the nest with fine grasses and softer plant material.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.6-0.8 in (1.5-2 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.2-1.5 cm)
Incubation Period:12-13 days
Egg Description:

Light bluish green either unmarked or with small scattered spots.

Condition at Hatching:

Naked with eyes closed.

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Behavior Ground Forager

Black-chinned Sparrows are rather secretive sparrows of rugged terrain. They hop between shrubs and generally don't forage out in the open, at least not for long. During the breeding season though, males sing from exposed perches to defend their territory. Pairs stay together for a single breeding season and tend to be rather solitary. In winter, Black-chinned Sparrows sometimes forage in small single-species groups.

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Conservation Declining

Black-chinned Sparrows are locally common, but their populations declined by 62% between 1970 and 2014, according to Partners in Flight. They are a Yellow Watch List species with a declining population and a Continental Concern Score of 15 out of 20. The estimated global breeding population is 450,000. Climate and rainfall patterns affect Black-chinned Sparrow numbers. Populations in Santa Barbara County, California, declined following wet winters, but lack of rain in Texas delayed breeding. Extensive grazing can degrade chaparral breeding and nonbreeding areas, causing sparrow numbers to fall. In the Chisos Mountains in Texas for example, extensive grazing reduced the number of Black-chinned Sparrows, but 30 years after the cattle were removed their numbers increased. Extensive grazing on other public lands in the West may also be linked to population declines.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Rising, J. D. (1996). A Guide to the Identification and Natural History of the Sparrows of the United States and Canada. Academic Press, NY, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Tenney, Chris R. (1997). Black-chinned Sparrow (Spizella atrogularis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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