Bird Habitat: Deserts

Bird species from many disparate families have managed to carve out an existence in the world’s driest places.

February 28, 2024

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Bird Habitat: Deserts


This episode—which is Number 92—is all about the value of desert ecosystems as habitats for birds.

Deserts are important for the birds that are adapted to live in them—birds that can handle the harsh conditions.

Deserts are home to relatively few bird species. Only the polar regions and maybe some parts of the open ocean have less bird diversity.

Even if a bird species can handle the extremes of heat and cold in a desert, the desiccating winds, and the lack of water, that bird may not find much food.

Because where there are few plants, there are few invertebrates. So a bird in the desert can have a hard time finding any leaves, seeds, fruit, or bugs to eat.

And yet, an assortment of bird species from many disparate families have managed to carve out an existence in the world’s most arid lands. There may be nowhere near as many of them as in, say, a tropical rainforest or a temperate woodland…

BUT, the birds we do find in the desert are, I think, a particularly fascinating and admirable bunch. They’re tough little buggers. They’re resilient. Desert birds have interesting adaptations and behaviors that allow them to survive in places that would kill most other birds in a day.

CORRECTIONS: I realized after I recorded this episode that I mispronounced the names of the Namib and Thar deserts. Namib should be pronounced "NAH-mib." Thar is pronounced "Tar."

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Desert Sparrow (Passer simplex). Photo by Francesco Veronesi/Wikimedia.
Grayish Miner (Geositta maritima). Photo by niboldus/iNaturalist.
African Desert Warbler (Curruca deserti). Photo by Mourad Harzallah/Wikimedia.
Sinai Rosefinch (Carpodacus synoicus). Photo by christoph_moning/iNaturalist.
Dune Lark (Calendulauda erythrochlamys). Photo by ondrejprosicky/Adobe.
Greater Hoopoe-Lark (Alaemon alaudipes). Photo by El Golli Mohamed/Wikimedia.
Pink-eared Duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus). Photo by JJ Harrison/Wikimedia.
Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata). Photo by M. Leonard Photo/Adobe.
Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens). Photo by jmaley/iNaturalist.
Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis). Photo by Jaynes Gallery/Danita Delimont/Adobe.
Mongolian Ground-Jay (Podoces hendersoni). Photo by Jargal Lamjav/Wikimedia.
White-crowned Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga). Photo by
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles exustus). Photo by claudekolwelter/iNaturalist.


  • Grayish Miner sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC157960)
  • Desert Sparrow sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC121855)
  • African Desert Warbler sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC164130)
  • Dune Lark sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC346632)
  • Brown-necked Raven sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC863214)
  • Desert Owl sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC444484)
  • Desert Lark sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC44494)
  • Gila Woodpecker sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC700965)
  • Black-throated Sparrow sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC297533)
  • Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC781406)
  • Henderson's/Mongolian Ground-Jay sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC491475)
  • Mountain Wheatear sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC382994)
  • Greater Hoopoe-Lark sounds (Xeno Canto recording XC460652)

This work by Ivan Phillipsen is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

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