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Black-throated Sparrow juvenile at Malibu Lagoon

September 14, 2020

Black-throated Sparrows almost never appear at Malibu Lagoon.

Black-throated Sparrow, juvenile (Chris Tosdevin 9-13-20)

They’re a desert, chaparral, or rocky slopes bird. Malibu Lagoon may often be deserted, but it’s not a desert.

Black-throated Sparrow, juvenile (Chris Tosdevin 9-13-20)

In their adult plumage, they look elegant with a large black bib extending half-way down the breast, black cheeks and even bolder white supercilium and submoustachial stripes. This young bird looks a bit disheveled. We’ve seen them in many places: Antelope Valley, Carrizo Plains, Joshua Tree upper desert area and other dry locals.

Black-throated Sparrow, juvenile (Chris Tosdevin 9-13-20)

They are extremely well-adapted to dry deserts as they are one of the few birds that don’t have to drink water. They get all they need from their diet of seeds, flowers, and invertebrates, as well as from what is called “water of metabolism” (formed in the body from the oxidation of the hydrogen in foods, especially fats). They can live in dry areas far from water, an ecological niche too difficult for most other birds and mammals except the Kangaroo Rat.

Black-throated Sparrow, juvenile (Chris Tosdevin 9-13-20)

Their breeding range includes east central Washington, Oregon east of the Cascades, all of Nevada, most of Utah, the northern half of Arizona, a thin strip in northern Utah, and southeastern California east of the Sierra, plus a tiny isolated area which is probably the Carrizo Plains. They spend the winter in southeastern California, across southern Arizona and New Mexico, southwestern Texas, and most of Baja California and mainland Mexico.

Chris and Ruth’s bird was undoubtedly on his or her way south. SMBAS’ only other recorded Lagoon sighting was on July 19, 1987, probably a single bird (presence recorded but number not counted).

Black-throated Sparrow, juvenile (Chris Tosdevin 9-13-20)

Amphispiza bilineata (Greek amphi “on both sides” + spiza “finch”, Latin bilineata “two-striped”) is a small sparrow, 5 1/2″ long, same as the Chipping Sparrow. They’re not particularly skulky or secretive in their usual habitat, but I think you have to be both skilled and lucky to spot one in the brush around the lagoon where it’s almost totally unexpected.

Just as I was writing this, a report (from Joseph Brooks) came in that two other Black-throated Sparrows were spotted at Solstice Canyon yesterday (9-13-20), a few miles west of the lagoon. For those familiar with Solstice, they were in the vegetated creek bed near the parking lot. Can three birds constitute a fall-out?

Many thanks to Chris Tosdevin for the photos.
[Chuck Almdale]



joseph brooks



sunday 2 solstice creek parking ara

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