Living Bird Magazine
Bell's SparrowArtemisiospiza belli
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
The Bell’s Sparrow is a neat, gray-headed sparrow emblematic of California’s coastal sage and chaparral. They also occur in Baja California, the Mojave Desert, and on San Clemente Island, California (a federally threatened subspecies). Like the very similar Sagebrush Sparrow, these birds spend much of their time foraging for insects and seeds on the ground underneath shrubs. In spring males sing a fast mix of trills and chips from the tallest perches they can find.More ID Info
Find This Bird
As with many inconspicuous sparrows, the best way to find Bell’s 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—particularly in coastal sagebrush in southern California—these sparrows are fairly numerous. 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.
- Chingolo de Bell (Spanish)
- Bruant de Bell (French)
- Cool Facts
- Taxonomy can be confusing, even for the experts. In the nineteenth century all the “sage” sparrows from the Rocky Mountains west to the Pacific Coast were known as Bell’s Sparrow, although ornithologists noted there were 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 known Bell’s Sparrow was at least 9 years, 3 months old when it was recaptured and re-released at a California banding station.