WatchList Species Account for Sage Sparrow (Amphispiza belli)

Qualifies for the list as a Declining Yellow List Species

 

Photo: Ashok Khosla
Photo: Ashok Khosla

Breeding in shrub-steppe habitats and chaparral and sagebrush scrub, the Sage Sparrow is found in eastern Washington and Oregon and southern Idaho, western Wyoming and Colorado, throughout Nevada and Utah, and throughout the year in California west of the Sierra Mountains south into Baja California. In winter it withdraws from the northern part of its range into Arizona, southern New Mexico, and into adjacent Mexico. Its habitat is diminishing because of habitat destruction; some populations in southern California have been extirpated due to urbanization and conversion to agriculture. During breeding it is primarily an insectivore and during the nonbreeding primarily a granivore; it generally forages on the ground, near shrubs. It obtains most of its water from vegetation and insects. It is preyed on by Townsend’s ground squirrels, Common Ravens, Loggerhead Shrikes, and other raptors. There are instances of cowbird parasitism, but this is generally correlated with recent human disturbance; cowbirds rarely venture into intact tracts of big sagebrush or coastal sagebrush scrub.

 

Although in recent years populations appear stable across most of range, the clearing of sagebrush habitat for grazing has undoubtedly had a significant negative effect. Fire suppression resulting in tall, thick shrublands reduces habitat for the bird, and at the other extreme, fire-induced invasion by exotic weeds such as cheatgrass leads to Sage Sparrows abandoning the sites. The Californian subspecies belli is listed as a state Species of Special Concern, and the subspecies clementeae of the California Channel Islands is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as Threatened.