Black-throated Sparrow

Amphispiza bilineata

Brad Fiero
  • Sparrows, Buntings, Towhees, Longspurs
  • Passeriformes
  • Gorrión de garganta negra
  • Bruant à gorge noire

The Black-throated Sparrow is a very distinctive small, brown bird with a black throat and mask found in open areas with scattered shrubs and trees, including deserts and semi-desert grasslands in the intermountain region in the western United States, northern Mexico, and Baja California.

Fun Fact

Because it has evolved many specialized physiological mechanisms to cope with life in the desert, the Black-throated Sparrow is considered to be better adapted to this type of ecosystem than any other seed-eating bird in North America.

Bird Sounds
© Lang Elliot, Nature Sound Studio

Song starts with a few introductory notes, followed by a buzz and a trill (or several).

Appearance Description

Very distinctive for a small, brown bird. It has a black throat and mask, with a sharp white line over the eye and another as a moustache mark.

Range Map
Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution

Breeds in the intermountain region in the western United States, northern Mexico, and Baja California; winters in the southern portion of the breeding range in the southwestern United States, northern Mexico, and Baja California.


Breeds and winters in open areas with scattered shrubs and trees, including deserts and semi-desert grasslands.


A ground forager that feeds on grasshoppers, insect larvae, walking sticks, and dragonflies during the breeding season, and seeds, grasses, plant material, and prickly-pear cactus during the non-breeding season.


The start of the breeding season is determined by the onset of midsummer rains in the desert, with second broods common in years with plentiful rainfall. The nest is an open-cup construction of grasses, stems, and weeds, lined with fine grasses and rabbit and porcupine hair. Clutch size is usually 3-4 eggs. Nests started later in the season have a greater chance of being parasitized by Bronzed and Brown-headed Cowbirds.

  • 20 million
  • 20 million
  • 20 million now, 55 million 40 years ago
  • 63 percent in 40 years
Population Status Trends
Conservation Issues
  • Threats: Altered fire regimes have caused declining habitat quality throughout this species’ range. Frequent, cool-burning fires produce the best combination of open areas and short shrubs, but fires are now both less frequent and hotter. Invasive species, especially cheatgrass, also degrade Black-throated Sparrow habitat, as does overgrazing. Global warming, which is expected to make the southwestern United States even drier than it is now, is another concern.

  • Outlook: Returning the western United States to a more natural fire regime, restoring western shrublands, ensuring that rangelands are maintained in high quality, and combating invasive species would help stem the decline of this species and a number of other western shrubland birds.
What You Can Do
  • Help Halt Global Warming
    Back strong federal, state, and local legislation to cap greenhouse emissions, and spur alternative energy sources. Conserve energy at home and at work (

  • Maintain Ranchlands
    Support wildlife-friendly management of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies in the western states, including good regulations for grazing, fire, mining, and energy development. Support research and management actions against non-native, invasive plants; these actions help ranchers.

  • Stop Invasive Species
    Work with county agricultural officials to help fight the spread of non-native annual grasses. Support strong federal, regional, state, and local regulations and research and management to combat non-native, invasive species.
More Information
Natural History References
Conservation Status References

Johnson, M.J., C. van Riper III, and K.M. Pearson (2002). Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Birds of North America, Inc. Retrieved from The Birds of North America Online database:

Kaufman, Kenn. Guía de campo a las aves de Norteamérica. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.