Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata) 5.5 inches long
Black-throated Sparrow, USFWS photo by Jim Rorabaugh
These attractive little birds used to be called "desert sparrow" and they live up to the name, being birds of the open, arid parts of Arizona. Some are year-round residents of southern Arizona while others summer in more northern areas of the state and come south for the winter, augmenting the number of birds that we see in Cochise county at that time. They are found in pairs or small groups, foraging for seeds, spiders, insects, and plant shoots on the ground. The female builds a nest in low desertscrub plants including paloverde, cholla, ocotillo, yucca, and mixed native grasses. Nesting and breeding are dependent on rainfall; if conditions are favorable a pair may raise two broods a year. Field marks to look for include a striking black chin, throat, and upper breast, contrasting with white eyebrows and malar stripes. The rounded black tail has white corners that show in flight. The juvenile has the white eyebrow but lacks the black chest. The clean plumage and bold face pattern make this bird unique.
Alderfer, Jonathan (ed.). Field Guide to Birds: Arizona and New Mexico. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2006. This handy, pocket-size (4x6) guide includes most of the birds you're likely to see in Arizona. In addition to a photo, it includes information about behavior, habitat and specific local sites where you are likely to find the bird.
Corman, Troy E. and Cathryn Wise-Gervais (eds.) Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.
Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.