Living Bird Magazine
Sagebrush SparrowArtemisiospiza nevadensis
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
The Sagebrush Sparrow is an elegant sparrow intimately tied to the great open spaces of the intermountain West. They live among sagebrush and other shrubs, where they forage mostly on the ground for insects and seeds. In early summer, males sing an abrupt, lively song from the shrub tops, where their soft gray upperparts complement the muted, gray-green sage. These sparrows depend on intact, relatively undisturbed tracts of sage for their breeding success; they winter in desert scrub and grasslands in the Southwest and Mexico.More ID Info
Find This Bird
As with many inconspicuous sparrows, the best way to find Sagebrush Sparrows is to look for them in the early morning during the breeding season, when males perch out in the open on tall shrubs and sing for your attention. At other times they may be considerably harder to find. Just be aware that in the right habitat—undisturbed sagebrush—these sparrows are fairly numerous, and they tend to forage on the ground and scurry rather than fly between patches of shrub cover. Patient watching and listening either for the sounds of foraging or for this bird’s bell-like tink call will help you find them.
- Zacatonero de Artemisas (Spanish)
- Bruant des armoises (French)
- Cool Facts
- Sagebrush Sparrows are faithful to very specific sites from year to year, especially if they breed successfully. One male returned to the same territory in Oregon for at least 6 successive years.
- The Sagebrush Sparrow’s song is composed of elements that are fine-tuned for the vast, windy steppe—the patterns and frequencies carry well in the open, windy landscape without degrading.
- Perhaps appropriately for a bird of the West’s wide open spaces, Sagebrush Sparrows hold some of the largest territories known for any sparrow species.
- Taxonomy can be confusing, even for the experts. In the nineteenth century the common sparrow of the sagebrush was known as Bell’s Sparrow, and ornithologists noted it consisted of several regional forms. By 1910 they had split Bell’s Sparrow into the two distinct species we know today, but a revision in 1957 lumped them together as the Sage Sparrow. In 2013 they were split back into two species, now known as the Sagebrush Sparrow and Bell’s Sparrow.
- The oldest recorded Sage Sparrow (which may have been a Bell's Sparrow rather than a Sagebrush Sparrow- see above fact about the species' taxonomy) was a male, and at least 9 years, 3 months old. It was banded in California in 2001, and recaptured in the same state in 2010.