Return to Main Page   Dakota Birder Blog    

Sagebrush Sparrow

Artemisiospiza nevadensis

Length: 6.25 inches Wingspan: 8.25 inches Seasonality: Very rare visitor
ID Keys: Bold white eyering and white whisker stripe, pale above and white below, black spot on center of chest

Sagebrush Sparrow - Artemisiospiza nevadensisThe Sagebrush Sparrow is found in many open brushy habitats of the interior West.  Until 2014, the Sagebrush Sparrow and the similar Bell's Sparrow were considered one species, called the Sage Sparrow.  However, there are plumage and other differences, and the Sagebrush Sparrow is much grayer and paler than the Bell's Sparrow.  Range differences also exist, with the Bell's Sparrow found primarily in California and Baja California, while the Sagebrush Sparrow is found across many western states.  While the Sagebrush Sparrow breeds as close as central Wyoming, they are only very rare visitors to South Dakota.

Habitat: Breeds in open brushy country, in sagebrush habitats as well as brushy stands of saltbush, chamise, and other low shrubs of the arid West.  They winter in open flats, deserts, and dry chaparral of the Southwest.

Diet:  Eats many insects, especially during the summer months.  Will also feed on seeds.

Behavior: Primarily forages on the ground, sometimes low in brush and shrubs.

Breeding: No confirmed breeding has occurred in South Dakota. On their breeding grounds, the female builds a cup-shaped nest of twigs and grasses, lined with fine grasses and sometimes rootlets, feathers, hair, and lichen.  The female lays 2-4 eggs, and incubates them for about 2 weeks.  The young fledge from the nest about 10 days after hatching.

Song: A high-pitched series of musical phrases

Migration: Some birds may be semi-permanent residents, but most birds move southward into the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico for the winter. 

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Sagebrush Sparrow sightings

Similar Species: Bell's SparrowVisually Sagebrush Sparrow and Bell's Sparrow are extremely difficult to distinguish from each other.  Some Bell's Sparrows, particularly those that breed near the coast in California, are darker overall, but Bell's Sparrows further to the east are paler and are much more similar in appearance to Sagebrush Sparrows.  Range differences are the most obvious means of distinguishing between the two species, but note there is overlap in wintering birds in western Arizona and nearby locations.

Bird Feeders: Will occasionally come to feeders for baby chicken scratch feed.

Conservation Status: Given the extreme decline in sagebrush habitats in the western US, declines may be expected, and recent trends show some declines are occurring. However, they are still found across a broad geographic region, and they are somewhat common in parts of their range. The IUCN considers the Sagebrush Sparrow to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) WhatBird - Sagebrush Sparrow

2) Sibley's Guide - Distinguishing Bell's and Sagebrush Sparrows

3) Audubon Guide -  Sagebrush Sparrow

Photo Information: Taken in S.W. Idaho by Larry Barnes


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Sagebrush Sparrow - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Very rare visitor, with only a handful of records in the state.

Additional Sage Sparrow Photos (Coming Soon!)