Olive SparrowArremonops rufivirgatus

adult
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult
Greg Lasley/VIREO

Description

In brushy country of far southern Texas, this plain little sparrow moves about quietly in the undergrowth. With its secretive behavior and soft ticking callnotes, it often goes unnoticed at most seasons; in spring, however, its song of accelerating musical chips may be conspicuous. Despite the name, this bird is probably related more closely to the towhees than to our other sparrows; it often forages like a towhee, using its feet to scratch for food in the leaf-litter.

Habitat

Woodland undergrowth, weedy thickets. In southern Texas, lives in the understory of dense low woods and in areas of low native brush. Farther south in the tropics, inhabits drier woods and semi-open scrub, avoiding humid tropical forest.

Feeding Diet

Probably insects and seeds. Diet is thought to be mainly insects (including caterpillars) and the seeds of wild plants.

Feeding Behavior

Does at least the majority of its feeding on the ground, under dense thickets or near their edges. Often forages rather like a towhee, scratching with its feet among the leaf-litter. Members of a pair may forage together.

Nesting

Little is known of the nesting habits. Birds may remain in pairs or small groups during the winter, separating into isolated pairs in spring. Males sing in spring to defend nesting territories. Nest site is in dense thickets, usually placed in shrub or cactus, typically 2-3' above ground but sometimes up to 5' high. Nest is large for size of bird, a bulky cup with a domed top above it, so that entrance is on the side; made of dry weed stems, grass, twigs, leaves, strips of bark, lined with fine grass and sometimes with hair. Eggs: 3-5, typically 4. Glossy white, unmarked. Incubation period and roles of the parents in incubating are not well known. Young: Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Pairs probably raise 2 broods per year.

Eggs

3-5, typically 4. Glossy white, unmarked. Incubation period and roles of the parents in incubating are not well known. Young: Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Pairs probably raise 2 broods per year.

Young

Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Pairs probably raise 2 broods per year.

Conservation

Undoubtedly has decreased in southern Texas as land has been cleared for farming; still common in remaining habitat.

Range

Apparently a permanent resident throughout its range.

Listen

calls & song fragments
alarm chips
songtype #1
songtype #2

Similar Species

adult

Worm-eating Warbler

A dry trilled song in the undergrowth of deciduous woods in summer announces that the Worm-eating Warbler is at home. Less colorful than most of its relatives, it is also more sluggish, foraging deliberately in the woodland understory or on the ground, probing among dead leaves with its rather long bill. Despite the name, it does not feed on earthworms; it does eat caterpillars, but no more than many other warblers.

adult

Abert's Towhee

Along streams in the desert Southwest, a sharp pinging note in the thickets announces the presence of Abert's Towhee. If an observer tries to approach, a pair of these towhees may stay just ahead and out of sight, calling in an odd squealing duet when pressed too closely. When undisturbed, they feed on the ground under dense bushes, scratching among the leaf-litter. Many southwestern "specialty birds" have extensive ranges in the tropics, but this towhee barely gets across the border into northwestern Mexico.

adult

Green-tailed Towhee

A catlike mewing call in the bushes may reveal the presence of the Green-tailed Towhee. Fairly common in western mountains in summer, this bird spends most of its time in dense low thickets, where it forages on the ground. Like other towhees, it scratches in the leaf-litter with both feet as it searches for food. It sometimes wanders east in fall, and strays may show up at bird feeders in winter as far east as the Atlantic Coast.

adult

California Towhee

Along the Pacific seaboard from southern Oregon to Baja, this plain brown bird is a common denizen of brushy places, from wild chaparral hillsides to the borders of gardens and city parks. California Towhees sometimes hide in the shrubbery, where they may be noticed mainly by their sharp callnotes and the squealing duets of mated pairs. At other times they come out on open ground, to scratch in the leaf-litter with both feet as they search for food.

adult

Canyon Towhee

In dry foothills and canyons in the interior of the Southwest, Canyon Towhees are common in the low brush. They spend most of their time on or near the ground, often scratching in the soil with both feet as they search for food. This bird and the California Towhee were once regarded as the same species, under the name of "Brown Towhee," but their voices are very different.

Vireo

iPad Promo