Family New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)

Least Concern

Rufous-crowned Sparrow (Aimophila ruficeps)


French: Tohi à calotte fauve German: Rostscheitelammer Spanish: Chingolo coronirrufo

Ammodromus [sic] ruficeps


, 1852,

Calaveras River [east of Stockton], California, USA


Geographical variation rather poorly marked. For convenience, races sometimes divided into “Pacific-coast group” (nominate, canescens and obscura), “SW-desert group” (eremoeca and scottii), and “Mexican group” (remaining races); most races in last group are very poorly differentiated, and some intergrade with members of second group, rendering recognition of groups at best doubtful. Race eremoeca intergrades with scottii in W Texas and with pallidissima in N Mexico (Coahuila), and last two may be synonyms of eremoeca; likewise, boucardi intergrades with eremoeca in E Mexico; in W Mexico suttoni intergrades with (and perhaps better subsumed into) extima and may intergrade also with fusca, and latter intergrades in SW Guanajuato with simulans, from which rupicola is possibly inseparable. Taxonomic review required. Race sanctorum is possibly extinct. Eighteen subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • A. r. ruficeps (Cassin, 1852) – C California (coast ranges and W slopes of Sierra Nevada), in SW USA.
  • A. r. canescens Todd, 1922 – SW California and extreme NW Mexico (NW Baja California E to base of Sierra San Pedro Mártir, S to c. 30°30’ N).
  • A. r. obscura Dickey & van Rossem, 1923 – islands of Santa Cruz and Anacapa, off SW California.
  • A. r. sanctorum van Rossem, 1947 – Todos Santos Is, off NW Baja California (NW Mexico).
  • A. r. scottii (Sennett, 1888) – SW USA (S Nevada, SW Utah, N & E Arizona and SW New Mexico) S to N Mexico (NE Sonora and NW Coahuila).
  • A. r. rupicola van Rossem, 1946 – mountains of SW Arizona.
  • A. r. eremoeca (N. C. Brown, 1882) – S USA from SE Colorado, SW & C Kansas, W & C Oklahoma and WC Arkansas S through E New Mexico and W Texas to N Mexico (N Chihuahua and C Coahuila).
  • A. r. sororia Ridgway, 1898 – extreme S Baja California, in W Mexico.
  • A. r. simulans van Rossem, 1934 – NW Mexico from SE Sonora and SW Chihuahua S to N Nayarit, SW Zacatecas, N Jalisco and W Guanajuato.
  • A. r. phillipsi Hubbard & Crossin, 1974 – SE Sinaloa (Palmito area).
  • A. r. suttoni Hubbard, 1975 – E Nayarit and N & W Jalisco, possibly also in Colima.
  • A. r. fusca (Nelson, 1897) – S Nayarit, SW Jalisco, N Colima and Michoacán.
  • A. r. extima A. R. Phillips, 1966 – E Jalisco and N Michoacán.
  • A. r. pallidissima A. R. Phillips, 1966 – NE Mexico from S Coahuila S to N San Luis Potosí and E to S Tamaulipas.
  • A. r. boucardi (P. L. Sclater, 1867) – E Mexico from C Coahuila, C Nuevo León and S Tamaulipas S through San Luis Potosí to Distrito Federal, Tlaxcala, N Puebla and CW Veracruz.
  • A. r. duponti Hubbard, 1975 – Valley of Mexico.
  • A. r. australis (Nelson, 1897) – S Mexico (Guerrero, S Puebla and Oaxaca).
  • A. r. laybournae Hubbard, 1975 – WC Veracruz S to SE Puebla and NC Oaxaca.
  • Descriptive notes

    13·5–15 cm; 15·2–23·3 g. A medium-sized sparrow with large bill and long, rounded tail. Nominate race has crown rusty, thinly outlined with... read more


    Variable, but generally 6–9 jumbled or staccato “chip” notes, or “tchee-dle... read more


    Dry hillsides and canyons with low cover of grass, forbs and bare ground. In California often found... read more

    Food and feeding

    Little information. In autumn and winter eats mostly seeds; some insects taken, also small lizards and berries. Forages on ground and low... read more


    Breeds in late winter and spring (Feb–Jun) in California, but in summer (Jul–Sept) in SW deserts, and recorded in Jun and Jul... read more


    Essentially sedentary; some move downslope in winter, and some may make post-breeding shift upslope... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Often common or very common in appropriate habitat. In California insular race obscura listed as being “of Special Concern” owing partly to... read more

    Recommended citation

    Rising, J. (2020). Rufous-crowned Sparrow (Aimophila ruficeps). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 25 February 2020).