Bell's and Sagebrush Sparrows

Identification of Bell's and Sagebrush Sparrows

Kimball Garrett and Andy Birch

Tue, Nov 17, 2020 7:00 PM

The Bell’s and Sagebrush Sparrow split has been one of the more headache-inducing identification challenges for southwest birders. In 2013, the AOU’s 54th supplement split Sage Sparrow Artemisiospiza belli into two species; Sagebrush Sparrow A. nevadensis and Bell’s Sparrow A. belli. Bell’s Sparrow consists of subspecies belli, canescens, cinerea, and clementeae.

Separating nominate Bell’s belli from Sagebrush is straightforward based on both plumage and range. However, separating the interior Bell’s canescens from Sagebrush, especially where the two species overlap in winter in the California, Nevada and Arizona deserts, can be a much harder problem to solve and has been frustrating birders across the southwest.

In this webinar, Kimball Garrett will provide an overview on the status and distribution on Bell’s and Sagebrush Sparrow, as well as pointer on identification. Kimball will also introduce us to a new project to find and photograph Sagebrush Sparrows in Los Angeles County! Be ready for the Great Sagebrush Sparrow Hunt.

For additional information regarding identification of “Sage” sparrows, see Peter Pyle’s analysis from 2013 and Andy Birch’s analysis and artwork from 2017.

Note that the song of canescens is distinguishable from the song of Sagebrush, so an audio recording could be the key to identification and documentation. The songs are variable, so it is helpful to listen to several examples, like this Sagebrush Sparrow song.

Slides from the webinar are here.

Here is a video of the webinar: