Rufous-winged Sparrow

Aimophila carpalis

Michael Woodruff
  • Sparrows, Buntings, Towhees, Longspurs
  • 74,000

This small sparrow is found on flat, dry grasslands that are host to thorn-scrub habitats from southern Arizona to northwestern Mexico. The species is shy and elusive and is difficult to see except when the male is singing from exposed perches.

A slender sparrow with a gray face, rufous crown, and brown streak behind the eye. Fairly large-billed. Both sexes are brownish above with dark streaks; underparts are offwhite, unstreaked. Rusty patch on wings. Tail is relatively long and rounded.

Distribution and Population Trends
Breeds in flat, dessert grasslands scattered with thorn-scrub including bunch grasses, mesquite, or cholla. This species is also found along washes with sandy bottoms and vegetated slopes. It is a year-round resident of south-central through southeastern Arizona south to the southeastern Sonora and central Sinaloa regions of Mexico. Although it continues to be fairly common, the species' limited geographic range puts it at risk.

Nest is built low in a tree or bush and is cup-shaped, made of grasses and twigs and lined with finer grasses. Nests from April through September, sometimes in pairs or small groups year-round. Diet consists of seeds and insects.

This species is considered at-risk due to the limited geographic range. Within this limited range its grassland and shrubland habitat has been rapidly lost to development and agriculture.

Protection of remaining habitat blocks within its range should be a high priority. Maintaining habitat management beneficial to the species at publicly-owned sites should be encouraged.

What Can You Do?
Audubon's Important Bird Area program is a vital tool for the conservation of Rufous-winged Sparrow as well as other species. To learn more about the Important Bird Areas program and how you can help, visit:

Volunteers are crucial to the success of programs that monitor the long-term status of wintering populations of Rufous-winged Sparrow and other bird species. Audubon's Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is one of the longest-running citizen-science monitoring programs in the world and has helped to follow changes in the numbers and distribution of Rufous-winged Sparrow. To learn more about the CBC and how you can participate, visit:

Information on where Rufous-winged Sparrows occur and in what numbers is vital to conserving the species. Help in monitoring this and other species by reporting your sightings to eBird. A project of Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird is the world's first comprehensive on-line bird monitoring program:

U.S. National Wildlife Refuges provide essential habitat for Rufous-winged Sparrows, and a great number of other species throughout the U.S. and its territories. Unfortunately, the refuge system is often under-funded during the U.S. government's budgeting process. To learn more about how you can help gain much needed funding for U.S. National Wildlife Refuges, visit:

If you own land that does support or has the potential for supporting Rufous-winged Sparrow consider managing in ways that would increase numbers of the species. Contact your state wildlife agency or your state Audubon office for more details.

Byers, C., J. Curson, and U. Olsson. 1995. Sparrows and Buntings. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, New York.

Rising, J.D. 1996. A Guide to the Identification and Natural History of the Sparrows of the United States and Canada. Academic Press. San Diego, London, New York, Boston, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto.