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Desert Sparrow - BirdForum Opus

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Alternative names: White Sparrow; African Desert Sparrow

Male saharae
Photo by Momo
Hamada du Drâa, Morocco, February 2007
Passer simplex


Length 14-15 cm. An extremely pale sparrow, often with an upright posture:


Female saharae
Photo by Ornitho26
Bir Ghilane, Tunisia, February 2007
  • Pale grey above
  • White ear-coverts and cheek
  • Black lores
  • Extensive black bib from chin to upper breast
  • White median coverts
  • Black greater coverts with broad white tips
  • Blackish flight-feathers
  • Blackish tail
  • Whitish-buff underparts (white in zarudnyi)
  • Horn-coloured bill, black in breeding season


  • Nondescript pale sandy or sandy-buff plumage
  • Paler below
  • Wings like male but darker areas paler and more sandy brown
  • Female zarudnyi similar to male zarudnyi but grey tinged buff and black on head and bib brown

Juveniles are similar to females.


Patchily distributed in the African Sahara and deserts of south-central Asia.
Locally common. Zarudnyi much rarer and probably declining.


Zarudny's Sparrow was recently split from Desert Sparrow.


Two subspecies are recognized[1].

  • P. s. saharae
  • Sahara of south-eastern Morocco to Algeria, southern Tunisia and central Libya. New work shows that this subspecies may be invalid and should to be lumped into simplex.
  • P. s. simplex
  • Southern Sahara from Mali to northern Niger (Aïr Massif), northern Chad and central Sudan


Sandy plains at desert edge; also oases and settlements.


An erratic species, at times common in an area and absent in another.


Feeds on seeds of desert bushes and ground vegetation. Nestlings are fed with insects.
Forages in pairs or small groups collecting food on the ground.


Breeding season from March to August. Breeds solitary or in small colonies. The nest is a dome made of dry grass and small twigs. It's placed in a tree or a hole in a wall or a building. May also nest in the base of a large nest of a crow or a raptor. Lays 2 - 6 eggs.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Sibley, CG and BL Monroe. 1996. Birds of the World, on diskette, Windows version 2.0. Charles G. Sibley, Santa Rosa, CA, USA.
  3. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliott, and D Christie, eds. 2009. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 14: Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8496553507
  4. Kirwan et al: Taxonomy, identification and status of Desert Sparrows. In Dutch Birding 31: 139-158, 2009.

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