Sagebrush Sparrow in the Eastern San Joaquin Valley

BACKGROUND - One Species Becomes Two (maybe three?)

In 2013, the American Ornithological Union's Committee on Classification and Nomenclature in its 54th Supplement, split what was one species, Sage Sparrow (Amphispiza belli) into two species. The five former subspecies were separated out with the former subspecies A.b. nevadensis becoming the Sagebrush Sparrow (Amphispiza nevadensis) and the other 4 subspecies being grouped together as Bell's Sparrow (Amphispiza belli). A few years later the AOU changed the genus Amphispiza to Artemisiospiza which all five subspecies now have.

*There is still considerable research being done and some believe that the Canescens Bell's Sparrow (Artemisiospiza belli canescens) may actually be a distinct species from both Bell's Sparrow and Sagebrush Sparrow.

IDENTIFICATION CHALLENGES

Separating Bell's Sparrow 4 subspecies (ssp) and Sagebrush Sparrow.

The Sagebrush Sparrow (Artemisiospiza nevadensis), is phenotypically different from three of the Bell's Sparrow's (Artemisiospiza belli) subspecies (A.b. belli, cinerea, and clementae), however, only subtle plumage differences separate A. nevadensis from A. b. canescens in the field." Peter Pyle published a very informative article that is featured on sibleyguides.com called, "On separating Sagebrush Sparrow (Artemisiospiza nevadensis) from Bell's Sparrow (A. belli) with particular reference to A. b. canescens". Based on his article and information found on eBird and Cornell Lab's Birds of the World, below is a synopsis of the identification field marks on how to separate Sagebrush Sparrow (Artemisiospiza nevadensis) from the Canescens Bell's Sparrow (Artemisiospiza belli canescens).

DIVIDE & CONQUER

The Darker Forms: The three Bell's Sparrow subspecies (A.b. belli, cinerea, and clementae) are phenotypically similar, characterized with a brown back and wings that contrast with a dark gray head, white throat with a dark malar stripe. There are also other minor differences in colors and distinct ranges of these three ssp.

Bell's Sparrow Photo © David A. Hofmann Artemisiospiza belli belli Bell's Sparrow taken on Pine Flat Road, Sonoma County, California.

The Paler Forms: The Bell's Sparrow (Artemisiospiza belli canescens) and the Sagebrush Sparrow (Artemisiospiza nevadensis) both have a paler overall appearance with the browns of the back and wings and the grayish cast of the head much lighter in color.

Photo © Jim Gain Artemisiospiza nevadensis Sagebrush Sparrow taken on Cooperstown Rd, Stanislaus County, California. 10/22/2020

PHYSICAL IDENTIFICATION COMPARISONS

  • Sagebrush Sparrow (Artemisiospiza nevadensis): In fresh plumage, distinct black stripes on back, with a subtle malar stripe and gray head color contrasting with the brown back.

  • Cenescens Bell's Sparrow (Artemisiospiza belli canescens): In fresh plumage, stripes on back non-existent or extremely light, with a bold and longer malar stripe and a more brownish head.

IMAGES FROM THE SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY

Photo © Jim Gain Artemisiospiza nevadensis Sagebrush Sparrow taken on Cooperstown Rd, Stanislaus County, California. 10/22/2020

Photo © Jim Gain Artemisiospiza nevadensis Sagebrush Sparrow taken on Cooperstown Rd, Stanislaus County, California. 10/22/2020

Photo © Jim Gain Artemisiospiza nevadensis Sagebrush Sparrow taken on Cooperstown Rd, Stanislaus County, California. 10/22/2020

Photo © Jim Gain Artemisiospiza nevadensis Sagebrush Sparrow taken on Cooperstown Rd, Stanislaus County, California. 10/22/2020

Photo © Jim Gain Artemisiospiza nevadensis Sagebrush Sparrow taken on Cooperstown Rd, Stanislaus County, California. 10/22/2020

Photo © Jim Gain Artemisiospiza nevadensis Sagebrush Sparrow taken on Cooperstown Rd, Stanislaus County, California. 10/22/2020

Video taken by Sal Salerno on 10/24/2020

Video taken by Jim Gain on 10/22/2020

Photo © Richard Brown Artemisiospiza nevadensis Sagebrush Sparrow taken on Cooperstown Rd, Stanislaus County, California. 10/22/2020

Photo © Richard Brown Artemisiospiza nevadensis Sagebrush Sparrow taken on Cooperstown Rd, Stanislaus County, California. 10/22/2020