Bird of the Week, May 28, 2013,
Sage Sparrow


Sage Sparrow by Greg Lavaty


At first glance, the Sage Sparrow might seem rather ordinary, but look closer, and you’ll find a species with distinctive behaviors and conservation needs.


Unlike some sparrows that can use a variety of habitats, the Sage Sparrow must have open sagebrush habitat to breed successfully; it breeds in these areas over 90 percent of the time. A mixture of bare ground and plants also appears to be an important component for breeding success.


The Sage Sparrow is often seen running with its longish tail cocked; when perched, it wags its tail up and down like a phoebe. The bird spends much of its time on the ground foraging for insects and seeds.


Although populations appear stable across most of its range, the clearing of sagebrush for grazing has had a significant negative effect on the Sage Sparrow. Fire suppression, which leads to a build-up of brush and invasive weeds such as cheatgrass, also degrades suitable habitat.


Five subspecies of Sage Sparrow are currently recognized. The three non-migratory subspecies found in coastal California and Baja California were once considered a separate species and are again being considered for a potential split by the American Ornithologist’s Union (AOU).


The Californian subspecies belli is listed by the state as a 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.


You can help the Sage Sparrow by joining our Spring 2013 Fundraising Challenge. We urgently need your support to conserve Sagebrush and other critical bird habitats!



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Photo: Greg Lavaty,; Range Map, NatureServe