Distinguished by the red feathers on top of its head, the rufous-crowned sparrow is a year-round resident of the rocky hills of the American Southwest and the central interior of Mexico.

Physical Description

These medium-sized, long-tailed sparrows have gray and brown feather coloring. Their wings and back are gray with chestnut-brown dotted streaks.

Their heads are more distinguishable. Adults have a cinnamon-red crown (the top of their head), a thick pointed bill, a white ring around each eye and whitish-gray stripes across their face. Juveniles do not develop their red crown until adulthood.

There are some regional differences in coloration with rufous-crowned sparrows. Individuals that live along the Pacific Coast have more of an overall reddish coloring, while those that live on offshore islands often have darker feathering.


Rufous-crowned sparrows are about 5.25 inches (13.3 centimeters) in length, and a weight between 0.53 and 0.81 ounces (15 to 23 grams). Males tend to be a little larger than females.

Native Habitat

Rufous-crowned sparrows prefer dry, rocky hillsides with plenty of shrubs and grasses. They are also found in open pine-oak woods, chaparral areas (shrubby plants adapted to dry summers and moist winters) and coastal scrubland. 


Males sing a jumbled melody of notes to establish their territory, which they defend from other males. They also have a harsh-sounding alarm call that sounds like "dear-dear-dear," which they use to alert other sparrows to the presence of a nearby predator.

Food/Eating Habits

Rufous-crowned sparrows eat mainly seeds and plant material in the winter, and insects in the spring and summer.

They search for food while slowly walking on the ground. These birds are most often seen feeding among low shrubs and grasses, and they rarely forage for food out in the open. They are not strong fliers. 

Social Structure

Males and females pair up during the breeding season, sticking together to look for food and raise their young. They have also been observed foraging for food with other species of birds.

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