The only tropical member of this primarily North American genus, the 5½ – 6″ (152-4 mm.) Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis) or Andean Sparrow is found in the scrub and pasture lands of South America, from southern Mexico to the southern tip of South America.
Description: Sexes alike; juvenile clearly different from subsequent plumages.
Adult/first year: Crown black with narrow grey median stripe; feathers often raised in a short crest. Lores and supraloral blackish-grey. Eye-stripe black. Most of ear coverts black with a large grey patch in center. Nape rufous, forming a prominent nuchal collar. Unpperparts warm olive-brown, heavily streaked blackish on mantle, back and scapulars. Lesser coverts brownish, fringed grey. Rest of wings blackish-brown with broad rufous-brown edges to greater coverts and tertials, and narrow buff-brown edges to other feathers. Greater and median coverts tipped white forming two wing-bars. Bend of wing whitish. Tail blackish-brown with narrow buff-brown feather edges. Throat white, extending slightly round rear edge of ear-coverts and joining with rufous nuchal collar. Uppper breast black, forming a prominent band which is narrower in centre but usually complete. Rufous patches on breast-sides, immediately below the black breast-band, join with the rufous collar. Rest of underparts whitish, washed buff on fllanks. Iris dark reddish-brown. Bill blackish-grey. Legs fleash.
Juvenile: Head and upperparts warm brown (upperparts buffier and less olive than adult’s) with blackish-brown streaks; ear coverts blackish with a large buffy patch in center, and rest of adult’s head pattern may be faintly indicated. Crest is shorter. Nape is warm buff, streaked darker, but the rufous nuchal collar is lacking. Wing bars buffy. Underparts buffy-white with blackish streaking on throat, breast and flanks. *
There are twenty-five races, which show marked variations, with the head becoming progressively greyer and less stripier in southern South America, and darker and dingier in the Venezuelan region.
These are very active birds, always on the move, and much more at home in an aviary than a cage.
The male has a pleasant song which is rather variable but quite distinctive – a series of clear whistles, followed by a cheerful trill or an accelerating stutter.
These sparrows breeds year round over much of its range, and becomes quite territorial when breeding. Breeding behavior is reported to be very secretive and nervous, and the nest is generally placed on the ground or within a foot or two of it in a dense shrub or small tree. The nest is a compact or bulky cup of grasses, lined with finer grasses and hair. The normal clutch size is 3 to 4 eggs, which are a pale greenish-blue and densely spotted and blotched with brown.
Diet in the wild consists mainly of grass and weed seeds, fallen grain and some insects.
- “Sparrows and Buntings – A Guide to the Sparrows and Buntings of North America and the World” by Clive Byers, Jon Curson and Urban Olsson. 1995, Houghton Mifflin Co., (ISBN 0-395-73873-3)
“Finches and other seed-eating birds” by Robin L. Restall, 1975