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Sage Sparrow Amphispiza belli


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Sage Sparrow, adult
credit: Jerry Friedman/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Emberizidae, New World Sparrows view all from this family

Description ADULT Pacific ssp. belli ("Bell's") has gray-brown back, rump, and tail, brown wings with buff feather margins, and mostly dark gray nape and crown; note the white eyering and spot in front of eye. Cheeks are gray, and note white "mustache," black malar stripe, and mostly white throat and underparts, except for black central breast spot and light streaks on flanks. Interior ssp. nevadensis is similar, but paler overall; in particular, dark gray elements of head pattern are pale gray. JUVENILE Similar, but duller overall and heavily streaked.

Dimensions Length: 5-6" (13-15 cm)

Endangered Status The San Clemente Sage Sparrow, a subspecies of the Sage Sparrow, is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as threatened in California. This species lives only on San Clemente Island, in the Channel Islands. Its numbers declined rapidly when feral goats and pigs, introduced to the island, destroyed vegetation that the bird lives in. The feral grazers have been removed and the island vegetation is slowly recovering. The sparrow's numbers appear to have begun to climb slowly as a result of these recovery efforts.

Habitat Fairly common in scrubby habitats; belli is resident in coastal chaparral while nevadensis is a summer visitor (mainly May-Aug) to sagebrush habitats in north of range, moving south and into Mexico in winter.

Observation Tips Easy to see in suitable habitats.

Range Texas, Southwest, Northwest, California, Rocky Mountains

Voice Song is a short burst (2 secs or so) of tuneful tinkly notes, with longer pause between phrases; call is a thin, sharp tsip, tsipÖ.

Discussion Dry-country sparrow with understated plumage. Often cocks tail when running or feeding and flicks tail in agitated manner at other times. Forms small flocks outside breeding season. Sexes are similar, but two reasonably distinct subspecies occur.