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Worthen's Sparrow Spizella wortheni
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This species has an extremely small and declining range and population, and fledging success is very low, but it qualifies as Endangered (rather than Critically Endangered) because it breeds at three sites and at least one subpopulation is larger than 50 mature individuals.

Taxonomic source(s)
AOU. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.
Stotz, D. F.; Fitzpatrick, J. W.; Parker, T. A.; Moskovits, D. K. 1996. Neotropical birds: ecology and conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

12.5-14 cm. Dull sparrow with distinctive head pattern. Grey head with rufous crown (not extending on to forehead) and often brownish postocular stripe and wash on auriculars. Sandy grey-brown upperparts, streaked dark brown. Unstreaked grey rump. Dark brown wings and tail. Wings edged paler, with broad whitish to pale buff wing-bar, buffy-rufous tertial and secondary edging, and greyish lesser coverts. Whitish edging to tail. Pink bill. Juvenile is more nondescript. Head and chest washed brownish-buff, with dusky streaking on head and dark brown streaking on chest and flanks. Buff wing-bars. Similar spp. Sympatric Aimophila spp. have different head patterns and darker bills. Voice High, thin, fairly dry tssip or tsip, sometimes repeated rapidly. Song a dry, chipping trill of 2-3 second duration.

Distribution and population
Spizella wortheni has suffered a major range contraction and currently only breeds at sites in Coahuila and Nuevo León, Mexico: La India, where it was discovered in 2004 (Garza de Leon et al. 2007); San José del Alamito (Canales del Castillo et al. 2010), and Tanque de Emergencia, where 100-120 individuals were found in January 1998 (S. N. G. Howell in litt. 1998) in Coahuila; and Las Esperanzas (Wege et al. 1993, Behrstock et al. 1997), La Carbonera and San Rafael in Nuevo León. Wintering flocks have been observed in Erial (100 individuals observed in February 2006), La Carbonera and San Rafael in Nuevo León, and Rancho los Angeles in Coahuila, where 60 individuals were observed in February 2006 (Canales del Castillo et al. 2010). Thorough surveys may find additional sites because suitable habitat remains within its historical range (M. A. Cruz-Nieto in litt. 2007). It was first described from New Mexico, U.S.A. in 1884, but it has only been recorded in Mexico since that date. There are records from eight states, but it was last recorded in Puebla in 1893, Tamaulipas in 1924, San Luis Potosí in 1951, Veracruz before 1957, Chihuahua in 1959 and Zacatecas in 1961. The few records from San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Puebla and Veracruz were in the non-breeding season, and may refer to migrants, isolated individuals or extirpated populations. However, since birds move only locally in the non-breeding season in Coahuila and Nuevo Leon and there has been a large breeding range contraction in the north, it seems more likely that these represent extirpated populations (Wege et al. 1993).

Population justification
Wintering flocks of 100 and 60 individuals were observed in February 2006 (Canales del Castillo et al. 2010). Precautionarily assuming that these comprise the majority or even all of the remaining population, the global population could therefore number as few as c.100 mature individuals.

Trend justification
There are no new data on population trends; however, the species is suspected to be declining at a slow rate owing to inappropriate grazing regimes.

It is confined to open, arid shrub-grassland at elevations of 1,200-2,450 m (Wege et al. 1993, Behrstock et al. 1997) where breeding sites have been found in associations of tarbush (Flourensia cernua), creosotebush (Larrea tridentata), fourwing saltbush (Atriplex canescens) and short grassland (Garza de Leon et al. 2007, Canales del Castillo et al. 2010). It probably keys-in on certain vegetational structural components, such as open areas with low (grazed) grasses for foraging and a moderate complement of low, dense shrubs for cover and nesting (Behrstock et al. 1997, Garza de Leon et al. 2007, Canales del Castillo et al. 2010). Taller shrubs and trees may serve as observation or song perches, but a lack of shrubs over 0.5 m is not a deterrent to habitat occupancy (Behrstock et al. 1997). There are indications that it prefers the open-wooded area ecotone, but this is not the case at Las Esperanzas (Wege et al. 1993, Behrstock et al. 1997). In recently discovered breeding areas, 57 characterized nests showed a preference mainly for tarbush and Opuntia as nesting shrubs (Canales del Castillo et al. 2010). Nests of 3-5 eggs have been found between May and August (Garza de Leon et al. 2007, Canales del Castillo et al. 2010). Single-species flocks form after the breeding season (Wege et al. 1993) and are apparently strongly attracted to permanent water (Behrstock et al. 1997).

Open shrub-grasslands have been greatly reduced by agriculture and grazing, and the rate of habitat conversion is increasing, primarily for production of potatoes (M. A. Cruz-Nieto in litt. 2007). There has been a progressive loss of habitat even on the Coahuila-Nuevo León border, especially in the El Potosí Valley (M. A. Cruz-Nieto in litt. 2007). Grazing and the use of chemicals modify and reduce the quality of the habitat and disturb nesting birds (Garza de Leon et al. 2007). It seems unlikely that large tracts of habitat remain near the currently known sites (Wege et al. 1993, Garza de Leon et al. 2007, Canales del Castillo et al. 2010). Reported reproductive success is very low, only 14% in La India and 0% in Carbonera; predation (Garza de Leon et al. 2007, Canales del Castillo and González-Rojas in prep.) and livestock disturbance (Canales del Castillo et al. 2010) seem to be the main causes, but it is not known how this affects populations (Garza de Leon et al. 2007). Snakes and coyotes are thought to predate nests (M. A. Cruz-Nieto in litt. 2007).

Conservation Actions Underway
The north side of the valley near at Tanque de Emergencia (Rancho los Angeles), is managed appropriately by the Universidad Autónoma Agraria Antonio Narro, using a rotational grazing regime to ensure that the grass is always high in several pastures (Wege et al. 1993). The La India locality has been proposed as a protected natural area within the category of "sanctuary" by the Museo de las Aves de Mexico, Saltillo. Pronatura Noreste have fenced an important winter foraging locality for this species (M. A. Cruz-Nieto in litt. 2007). Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey to identify additional breeding sites. Monitor known populations. Assess precise ecological requirements and understand local movements (Garza de Leon et al. 2007). Implement rotational grazing regimes at known sites (Wege et al.1993). Identify main predators and their impact over the reproductive success of the species. Develop an environmental education programme to promote the value of the ecosystem (Garza de Leon et al. 2007), and the importance of appropriate grazing regimes.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Behrstock, R. A.; Sexton, C. W.; Lasley, G. W.; Eubanks, T. L.; Gee, J. P. 1997. First nesting records of Worthen's Sparrow Spizella wortheni for Nuevo León, Mexico, with a habitat characterisation of the nest site and notes on ecology, voice, additional recent sightings and leg coloration. Cotinga: 27-33.

Canales-del Castillo, R., González-Rojas, J.I., Ruvalcaba-Ortega, I., García-Ramírez, A. 2010. New breeding localities of Worthen's sparrows in northeastern Mexico. Journal of Field Ornithology 81(1): 5-12.

Garza de León, A.; Rosales, I. M.; Cancino de La Fuente, F.; Hernández, R. T.; López de Aquino, S. 2007. Parametros reproductivos y nueva localidad de anidación para el Gorrión de Worthen (Spizella wortheni) en el estado de Coahuila, Mexico. Ornitologia Neotropical 18(2): 243-249.

Gonzalez-Rojas, J.E.I., Cruz-Nieto, J., Ruvalcaba-Ortega, I. and Cruz-Nieto, M.A. 2008. Breeding biology of eared quetzals in the Sierra Madre Occidental, Mexico. Journal of Field Ornithology 79(1): 20-23.

Wege, D. C.; Howell, S. N. G.; Sada, A. M. 1993. The distribution and status of Worthen's Sparrow Spizella wortheni: a review. Bird Conservation International 3: 211-220.

Further web sources of information
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.

Click here for more information about the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Capper, D., Isherwood, I., Mahood, S., Pople, R., Sharpe, C J, Khwaja, N. & Symes, A.

Cruz-Nieto, M.Á., Howell, S., Canales del Castillo, R., González Rojas, J., Garza de León, A. & Ruvalcaba Ortega, I.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Spizella wortheni. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Worthen’s sparrow (Spizella wortheni) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Endangered
Family Emberizidae (Buntings, American sparrows and allies)
Species name author Ridgway, 1884
Population size 100 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 25 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species