Zapata Sparrow Torreornis inexpectata


Justification of Red List Category

This species is confined to three distinct areas, with a small overall population divided into small subpopulations. Habitat loss is feared to continue throughout its range, causing the species to decline. Nevertheless, due to a large uncertainty around the population and trend values, the species does not qualify for a listing as threatened. It is therefore assessed as Near Threatened.

Population justification
The nominate subspecies inexpectata numbers more than 250 individuals (Wells and Mitchell 1995; E. Abreu in litt. 1999), subspecies sigmani numbers 600-700 individuals (Kirkconnell and Suarez 2005), while subspecies varonai is described as 'numerous' (P. López Delgado in litt. 2016). The overall population is therefore tentatively inferred to number 1,000-2,499 individuals, which roughly equates to 600-1,700 mature individuals. Further study is however required to confirm this estimate.
It is assumed that the species forms three disjunct subpopulations, which are identical with the three subspecies. Based on available information, the largest subpopulation numbers 600-700 individuals (Kirkconnell and Suarez 2005), equating to 400-470 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The population of subspecies inexpectata is described as stable (Wells and Mitchell 1995; E. Abreu in litt. 1999), but no trend data is available for the other two subspecies. The species is described as having a medium degree of sensitivity to anthropogenic disturbance (Parker et al. 1996; Kim and Slager 2020), and as such it is suspected that the species is declining overall due to habitat degradation and loss.
It has been estimated that habitat within the range has been reduced by 20% in the 20 years prior to 2012 (González et al. 2012). Tentatively assuming that this is continuing at the same rate to the present day, available habitat may have declined by 7% over the past ten years. The rate of population decline is therefore placed in the band 1-9% over ten years.

Distribution and population

Torreornis inexpectata occurs in three distinct subspecies in Cuba. The nominate subspecies inhabits the Zapata Swamp, subspecies varonai occurs within its restricted range on Cayo Coco and Cayo Romano in the Camagüey Archipelago, and subspecies sigmani is restricted to a small stretch of the south-east coast in Guantánamo.


The nominate subspecies inexpectata inhabits scrub grassland as well as xerophytic coastal vegetation and mangroves (E. Abreu in litt. 1999). Its habitat in the Zapata Swamp is flooded during the rainy season (Kim and Slager 2020). Subspecies varonai occurs in semi-deciduous forest, while subspecies sigmani inhabits dry scrub, dry forest and cactus stands (Kim and Slager 2020). Birds are usually seen in pairs or groups of three, but are occasionally also in larger groups of 10-12 (Raffaele et al. 1998). During the dry season, the species feeds primarily on fruits, seeds and flowers; in the wet season, it also takes insects, spiders, snails and their eggs and even small lizards (Raffaele et al. 1998). The nest is constructed in a tussock and the breeding season lasts from March to June.


Drainage and dry-season burning affect habitat in the Zapata Swamp. In Cayo Coco, the species is threatened by the development of roads, hotels and tourist infrastructure and the quarrying of rock for construction (P. López Delgado in litt. 2016). Burning of habitat, subsequent grass invasion and fencing for sheep-rearing threaten the population on the Guantánamo coast.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Each of the three subspecies has been recorded in a protected area, but none receives de facto protection (A. Mitchell in litt. 1998).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out surveys to produce a recent population size estimate and assess the population trend. Monitor the population trend. Assess the impact of threats to the species. Ensure the de facto protection of existing reserves (A. Mitchell in litt. 1998). Restore lost habitat. Develop a scheme whereby farming and conservation of the species are compatible.


16.5 cm. Plump, grey-and-yellow sparrow. Upperparts olive-grey with dark reddish-brown crown, throat white bordered by dark moustachial stripe, rest of underparts pale yellow. Immature darker and lacks reddish-brown crown. Wings short and rounded. Voice Call, short, metallic high-pitched trill at intervals tziii-tzziii-tzziii ... and quiet tic-tic-tic. In breeding season, rasping series of long, high-pitched notes tzi, tzi, tziii-tzzii, zu, zu, zu ... ending on a deeper note. Pairs duet.


Text account compilers
Hermes, C., Wheatley, H.

Abreu, E., Isherwood, I., Kirwan, G.M., López Delgado, P., Mahood, S., Mitchell, A., Pople, R., Sharpe, C.J. & Wege, D.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Torreornis inexpectata. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/01/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/01/2023.