Rufous-winged Sparrow

The Rufous-winged Sparrow, Aimophila carpalis, is a slender sparrow with a gray face and a brown streak which extends behind the eyes.


The back is brown with darker streaks, while the belly is pale gray. The wings and crown are rust colored. The sparrow has a yellow, conical bill, and a long, brown tail.

Distribution and habitat

A. carpalis is a year-round resident from south-central Arizona south into Mexico.

The Rufous-winged sparrow inhabits desert grasslands scattered with thorn bushes, bunch grasses, mesquite, or cholla. It also occurs in washes with sandy bottoms and vegetated slopes, brushy irrigation ditches, and creeks bordered by broad-leaved trees, mesquite, grasses, and weeds. The sparrow prefers grassy areas with scattered shrubs that are thorny and dense.


During the breeding season, A. carpalis feeds on a variety of insects caught on the wing or gleaned off plant surfaces. At other times, the bird eats grass and weed seeds.


A. carpalis breeds during the monsoon months of July and August. The nest is built low to the ground in the edges of bushes such as hackberry, palo verde, cholla cacti, or mesquite. The average clutch size is four, and the sparrow can have two broods per year.


This species is listed as a migratory bird under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

History in Pima County, Arizona

The Rufous-Winged Sparrow in Pima County: This species was first discovered in 1872, near old Fort Lowell, Tucson, where it was described as "very common". In 1881, the sparrow was found:
"sparingly about Tucson and Camp Lowell. It inhabited the mesquite thickets, keeping closely hidden in the bunches of 'sacaton' grass, from which, when flushed, it flew into the branches above."

After 1886, verified species records were exceedingly rare. The species was considered extinct in Arizona due to overgrazing. The rufous-winged sparrow was rediscovered in 1936, the first record in over fifty years. The sparrow now has records throughout much of eastern Pima County; in Canoa Ranch, Madera Canyon, Santa Rita and Santa Catalina Mountains, and in areas around Tucson. Loss of habitat as a result of overgrazing and urban development is believed to have had the greatest effect on populations.


  • Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern

Further reading


  • Lowther, P. E., K. D. Groschupf, and S. M. Russell. 1999. Rufous-winged Sparrow (Aimophila carpalis). In The Birds of North America, No. 422 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.


  • Groschupf KD. Ph.D. (1983). COMPARATIVE STUDY OF THE VOCALIZATIONS AND SINGING BEHAVIOR OF FOUR AIMOPHILA SPARROWS. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, United States -- Virginia.


  • Austin GT & Ricklefs RE. (1977). Growth and Development of the Rufous-Winged Sparrow Aimophila-Carpalis. Condor. vol 79, no 1. p. 37-50.
  • Borror DJ. (1971). Songs of Aimophila Sparrows Occurring in the USA. Wilson Bulletin. vol 83, no 2. p. 132-151.
  • Deviche P, McGraw K & Greiner EC. (2005). Interspecific differences in hematozoan infection in sonoran desert Aimophila sparrows. Journal of Wildlife Diseases. vol 41, no 3. p. 532-541.
  • Deviche P & Small T. (2006). Non-photic environmental control of post-breeding reproductive regression and molt in a Sonoran desert passerine, the Rufous-winged Sparrow. Journal of Ornithology. vol 147, no 5. p. 55-55.
  • Deviche P, Small T, Sharp P & Tsutsui K. (2006). Control of luteinizing hormone and testosterone secretion in a flexibly breeding male passerine, the Rufous-winged Sparrow, Aimophila carpalis. General and Comparative Endocrinology. vol 149, no 3. p. 226-235.
  • Deviche P, Small TW & Sharp P. (2005). Food composition modulates photoinduced IH secretion in a flexibly breeding passerine. Hormones & Behavior. vol 48, no 1.
  • Small T, Deviche P, Sharp PJ, Bentley GE, Millar RP & Tsutsui K. (2004). Supplementary information, not photoperiod, regulates plasma luteinizing hormone in male rufous winged sparrows, Aimophila carpalis. Integrative and Comparative Biology. vol 44, no 6. p. 748-748.
  • Small TW & Deviche P. (2001). Environmental control of seasonal reproduction in a temporally variable breeder, the rufous-winged sparrow, Aimophila carpalis. Hormones & Behavior. vol 39, no 4.
  • Small TW, Deviche P & Sharp P. (2003). Conspecific and heterospecific song exposure accelerates photoinduced reproductive development in the flexibly breeding Rufous-winged Sparrow, Aimophila carpalis. Integrative and Comparative Biology. vol 43, no 6. p. 927-927.
  • Small TW, Deviche P, Sharp PJ, Bentley GE, Millar RP & Tsutsui K. (2005). The rapid reproductive response of male rufous-winged sparrows, aimophila carpalis, to increased precipitation: A role for termites?. Hormones and Behavior. vol 48, no 1. p. 128-128.
  • Strand CR, Small TW & Deviche P. (2004). Singing in the rain: Growth of the song control system in free-ranging adult male Rufous-winged sparrows, Aimophila carpalis. Integrative and Comparative Biology. vol 44, no 6. p. 750-750.
  • Zerba E & Baptista LF. (1980). Courtship Feeding in Some Emberizine Finches. Wilson Bulletin. vol 92, no 2. p. 245-246.

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