Breeding Pale Rock Sparrow Carpospiza brachydactyla in the Samarian Hills and
Judean Desert, Israel 


IN ISRAEL, PALE ROCK SPARROW Carpospiza brachydactyla is a scarce local
breeder at 1250-1600 metres, on the slopes of Mount Hermon (Shirihai 1996).
Published records suggest that no more than ten pairs breed on Hermon, mainly in
late May-early July, and that nesting is sporadic (Zaterman 1986, Shirihai 1996). It
was an occasional breeder in the Jordan Valley in the early 20th century (Shirihai
1996). Migrants move through the east of the country, with largest numbers in the
Eilat area. Fluctuations in the species' abundance occur both on migration and the
nesting grounds, and it is thought to be an opportunistic breeder, following
exceptional rains (Cramp 1994). 

In late March 1988, large numbers were seen in the Negev and Judean Deserts and
Arava and Jordan Valleys, and though singing and displaying were observed,
breeding was not recorded (Shirihai 1996). Following similarly impressive numbers in
spring 2000 (though absent from the central Negev), many were found singing in the
hills of eastern Samaria and the Judean Desert in late April. It should be noted that in
winter 1999-2000, Israel received only c. 80% of its mean rainfall, though there was
exceptional snow cover on hills above 400 metres on 27 January. Furthermore, while
December and February-May were considerably drier than usual, January received
c. 300% of its mean monthly rainfall. On 3 May, in eastern Samaria, AM and PG
observed a pair copulating near Ma'ale Mikhmas (31°53'N 35°19'E). On 1 June, the
same observers discovered many individuals carrying insect food near Kokhav ha-
Shakhar (31°58'N 35°21'E), also in eastern Samaria. On the same day, they located a
nest within a low bush (c. 30 cm above ground) containing four downy chicks, which
were being fed by an adult. On 4 June, in the Judean Desert, IT and Itai Shani
observed a pair feeding one fledgling at Har Amasa (31°20'N 35°06'E). These are
apparently the first breeding records in Israel in recent decades away from Mount
Hermon. That from Har Amasa is the southernmost breeding record in Israel, being
230 km south of Mount Hermon. 

Pale Rock Sparrow was commonly observed in the Judea-Samaria area until late June,
with presumed post-breeding concentrations of several tens, e.g. two flocks of 30, in
the northern Judean desert, west of Metsokei Dragot, at 31°36'N 35°20'E, on 17 June
2000, and at 31°35'N 35 U 20'E, on 16 July 2000 (Yoav Perlman pers. comm.).
Extrapolating the tens seen in the survey area and the considerable area of similar
habitat nearby (presumably suitable for breeding), we suggest that several hundred
pairs may have bred in spring 2000 in east Israel. 


Cramp, S. and Perrins, C. M. (eds.) (1994) The birds of the Western Palearctic. Vol. 8. Oxford University Press.
Shirihai, H. (1996) The birds of Israel. Academic Press, London.
Zaterman, E. (1986) Birds of the Hermon. Tzufit 4: 39-82. [In Hebrew.] 

Philip Griffin, 3 Evershed Street, Myaree, 6154, Western Australia, Australia.
Asaf Mayrose, 18 Tarshish St, Ramat-Hasharon 47445, Israel.
Ido Tsurim, Department of Life Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, P. O. Box 653, Be'er Sheva, 84105, Israel.