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Botteri's Sparrow Life History



Botteri’s Sparrows inhabit desert and semi-desert grasslands, encinal savannas, and coastal prairies. In Arizona, they use grasslands that are not grazed (or are lightly grazed), especially where tall bunchgrasses such as sacaton flourish, in elevations as high as 5,000 feet. Small oaks are often present in such places, along with plant species such as vine mesquite grass, ocotillo, seepwillow, desert willow, velvet ash, Arizona sycamore, Arizona walnut, and Fremont cottonwood. They often nest in desert wash flats and forage on adjacent grassy hillsides as well. Some Arizona birds also nest in grasslands with mesquite, tobosa, catclaw acacia, velvet pod, rabbitbrush, groundsel, and wait-a-minute. In south-coastal Texas, Botteri’s Sparrows breed in pastureland and prairie habitats with scattered shrubs, especially areas near the coast that have cordgrass (genus Spartina), sea oxeye, ragweed, Bermuda grass, sandspur, kleingrass, interspersed in places with small mesquite, huisache, hackberry, yucca, and prickly pear.

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Botteri’s Sparrows eat mostly insects, especially grasshoppers, during the breeding season, which they capture by flushing and chasing both on foot and in flight. They also eat beetles and their larvae, butterflies and caterpillars, and seeds of various plants, mostly grasses. They usually forage on the ground in dense cover.

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Nest Placement


Nests on the ground in a dense clump of grass.

Nest Description

The nest, probably constructed by both sexes, is a cup of grasses with one side lowered to make a ramp or entranceway. The outer portion of the nest usually incorporates grasses (such as sacaton in Arizona), with the inner portion made of more tightly woven, finer grasses. Nests average about 3.7 inches across, with interior cup 2.7 inches across and 2.4 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-5 eggs
Egg Description:

White and unmarked.

Condition at Hatching:

Helpless with tufts of gray down.

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Ground Forager

In coastal Texas, Botteri’s Sparrows begin to breed in spring, while in desert habitats breeding usually begins in July, when monsoonal rains commence. At the beginning of the season, males sing vigorously from open perches, often not far from the next male. Courting males usually chase females in flight, with the male then perching above the female, cocking the tail, fluttering and opening the wings, and pointing the bill skyward in display. Before the eggs are laid, the male stays close to the female, and the two often forage together. Females invite mating with chip notes, soft singing, and perching prominently—which they rarely do otherwise. Both sexes share incubation and chick-feeding duties.

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Low Concern

Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 170,000 Botteri’s Sparrows, most of which reside in Mexico, and rates the species 13 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. A 2016 report estimated the breeding population in the U.S. at 30,000 individuals. In Mexico, its habitats are threatened by overgrazing, erosion, oil and gas development, and many other activities. In Arizona, Botteri's Sparrow populations appear stable in recent decades, though areas formerly occupied by the species have been lost to landscape modifications. In Texas, at least some of the species’ native coastal prairie habitat has been preserved, but populations there have declined historically.

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

Rosenberg, K. V., J. A. Kennedy, R. Dettmers, R. P. Ford, D. Reynolds, J. D. Alexander, C. J. Beardmore, P. J. Blancher, R. E. Bogart, G. S. Butcher, A. F. Camfield, A. Couturier, D. W. Demarest, W. E. Easton, J. J. Giocomo, R. H. Keller, A. E. Mini, A. O. Panjabi, D. N. Pashley, T. D. Rich, J. M Ruth, H. Stabins, J. Stanton, and T. Will (2016). Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision of Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

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

Webb, Elizabeth A. and Carl E. Bock. (2012). Botteri's Sparrow (Peucaea botterii), 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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Learn more at Birds of the World