Sagebrush Sparrows are brown above with a soft gray head with white underparts and a dark spot in the middle of the breast. The face shows a white eyering, a white spot before the eye, and a dark stripe bordering the throat. The tail is dark, with light edges to the outer feathers. Juveniles are more uniformly brown, lack the gray head, and are streaky beneath.
They are fairly inconspicuous birds that spend much of their time on the ground or concealed in shrubs, except during early summer when males sing from prominent perches. When crossing open areas they tend to run along the ground with the tail held high.
Sagebrush Sparrows breed in open areas of the rolling, sage-dominated shrubsteppe of western North America. During migration and in winter, Sagebrush Sparrows mix with other sparrow species in open, dry habitats including creosote and saltbush-dominated desert scrub.
The Sagebrush Sparrow was formerly considered one of five subspecies of the “Sage Sparrow." In 2013, Sage Sparrow was divided into two different species: one subspecies became the Sagebrush Sparrow, and the other four were classified as subspecies of Bell’s Sparrow. Bell's Sparrow has more subspecies and greater geographic variation because of their adaptability to a greater variety of habitat types and mountain ranges in and around California. The Sagebrush Sparrow, with somewhat paler plumage and longer wings (attributed to longer migrations), is fairly uniform across its broader range in the intermountain West of North America.