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Brewer's Sparrow


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Brewer’s Sparrows are at first glance so subtly marked that they’ve been called the “bird without a field mark.” These streaky, gray-brown sparrows are notable for their reliance on sagebrush breeding habitat, and their plumage is elegantly tuned to their muted, gray-green home. They’re the most abundant bird across the vast sagebrush steppe, and their long, trilling songs are a signature sound of the landscape. A markedly different subspecies lives among the stunted trees and shrubs at timberline in Canadian mountains.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Brewer’s Sparrow is typical of the Spizella group of sparrows: dainty and slim, with a long, notched tail, short rounded wings, and a small, sharply conical bill. Its size varies somewhat by region and sex, but overall it is North America’s smallest sparrow.

  • Color Pattern

    Brewer’s Sparrows are dusky gray-brown, with grayish underparts and a thin white eyering. The back and nape are streaked. A faint gray stripe over the eye contrasts with a darker eyeline. The throat is grayish white.

  • Behavior

    On the breeding grounds, in spring and early summer, male Brewer’s Sparrows sing long, trilled songs from atop sagebrush. These sparrows forage in dense shrubs to glean insect food and tend to stay out of open areas. During fall and winter they often convene in large flocks with other Spizella sparrows.

  • Habitat

    Brewer’s Sparrows live in the arid sagebrush steppe of the interior West of North America, where they are the region’s most abundant bird. In some northwestern mountains, a form known as the “Timberline Sparrow” lives among subalpine trees and dwarf shrubs.

Range Map Help

View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Because Brewer’s Sparrow has few obvious field marks, they can be readily confused with other sparrows (especially in winter), or overlooked altogether among more distinctive species. It’s helpful to consider habitat in these cases: Brewer’s Sparrows in winter are almost exclusively in desert grasslands of the Southwest and Mexico. They often form mixed flocks with other sparrows, where similarities with Clay-colored Sparrow and Chipping Sparrow can cause confusion. Clay-colored Sparrow tends to be brighter and more contrastingly patterned than Brewer’s Sparrow. It tends to be found in a broader range of vegetation and tolerates more treed areas. Look especially for Clay-colored’s buffier tones on the face, a clear, pale stripe over the eye, and a contrasting gray nape. In fall and winter, Chipping Sparrows tend to show a strong dark eyeline that goes all the way through the eye to meet the bill, and stronger wingbars than Brewer’s Sparrow.

Regional Differences

Brewer’s Sparrows that live among subalpine trees and shrubs at high elevations in mountains of Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, Alaska, and some parts of the northwestern U.S., are a separate subspecies (S. b. taverneri, often known as the “Timberline Sparrow”). They differ from birds in the rest of their range in having darker upperparts and bills, with more contrast to the underparts and facial pattern.

Find This Bird

Brewer’s Sparrows are habitat specialists, so the first step in finding them is to find their habitat. In spring or early summer, head out into the sagebrush early in the morning and listen for a male to sing his long, trilled song. You may also spot a small, gray-brown bird unobtrusively foraging within or on the ground below a clump of sagebrush. In winter, visit desert grasslands, where there are sometimes large flocks of several species of sparrows, including Brewer’s.



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