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Amphispiza belli - Sage Sparrow
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Scientific Name: Amphispiza belli
Authority: (Cassin, 1850)
English Common Name: Sage Sparrow
Spanish Common Name(s): Zacatonero de Artemisa
Portuguese Common Name(s): None Known

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Class Order Family
Aves Passeriformes Emberizidae

Taxonomic Comments: Composed of two groups which may represent distinct species: NEVADENSIS (Sage Sparrow) and BELLI (Bell's Sparrow) (AOU 1998). Johnson and Marten (1992) documented morphological, genetic, and ecological differences among subspecies CANESCENS, BELLI, and NEVADENSIS. They found that CANESCENS averages larger than BELLI in several morphometric characters and that CANESCENS and BELLI, though genetically closely related, are 100% separable on the basis of plumage coloration alone. Previously published reports of intergradation were shown to be incorrect. Also, post-nesting CANESCENS move into the active breeding range of BELLI but the two forms do not interbreed. All data indicated that CANESCENS and BELLI are reproductively isolated. Johnson and Marten noted that further study is needed before the absence of interbreeding can be regarded as firmly established. Johnson and Marten (1992) determined that subspecies CANESCENS and NEVADENSIS are strongly differentiated both morphologically and genetically; they found no evidence of intergradation and noted that Johnson was studying the possible biological species status of the two forms.

Global Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern  
CITES Status: None

BREEDING: Found from sea level to 2000 meters (Rising 1996); strongly associated with sagebrush for breeding. Also found in salt-bush brushland, shadscale, antelope brush, rabbitbrush, black greasewood (Colorado), mesquite, and chaparral (California; AOU 1998; Green and Smith 1981; Martin and Carlson 1998; Paige and Ritter 1998; Reynolds 1981). Prefers semi-open habitats, shrubs 1-2 meters tall (Martin and Carlson 1998). Habitat structure (vertical structure, shrub density, and habitat patchiness) is important to habitat selection (Martin and Carlson 1998). Positively correlated with big sagebrush (ARTEMISIA TRIDENTATA), shrub cover, bare ground, above-average shrub height, and horizontal patchiness; negatively correlated with grass cover (Rotenberry and Wiens 1980; Wiens and Rotenberry 1981; Larson and Bock 1984).

In northern Great Basin, associated with low and tall sagebrush/bunchgrass, juniper/sagebrush, mountain mahogany/shrub, and aspen/sagebrush/bunchgrass communities for breeding and foraging (Maser et al. 1984). In Idaho, found in sagebrush of 11 to 14 percent cover (Rich 1980). Martin and Carlson (1998) report preference for evenly spaced shrubs; other authors (Rotenberry and Wiens 1980; Peterson and Best 1985) report association where sagebrush is clumped or patchy.

Subspecies BELLI: chaparral dominated by chamise and/or California sagebrush (Johnson and Marten 1992). Subspecies CANESCENS: breeds in desert scrub where ATRIPLEX is prevalent (Johnson and Marten 1992). Subspecies NEVADENSIS: breeds in brushland dominated by big sagebrush or sagebrush-saltbush (Johnson and Marten 1992). Subspecies CLEMENTEAE: nests in boxthorn shrubs interspersed by cactus (Willey 1997).

Nests on the ground or in a shrub, up to about one meter above ground (Terres 1980). In the Great Basin, usually nests in living sagebrush where cover is sparse but shrubs are clumped; avoids southwestern side of plant (Petersen and Best 1985). Placement may be related to density of vegetative cover over the nest, as will nest higher in a taller shrub (Rich 1980).

NON-BREEDING: In migration and winter also in arid plains with sparse bushes, grasslands and open situations with scattered brush, mesquite, and riparian scrub; preferring to feed near woody cover (Martin and Carlson 1998; Meents et al. 1982; Repasky and Schluter 1994). Flocks in Mojave Desert appear to follow water courses (Eichinger and Moriarty 1985). Wintering birds in honey mesquite of lower Colorado River select areas of higher inkweed (SUAEDA TORREYANA) density (Meents et al. 1982).
Population Status

Distribution Status in Latin America

Native Mexico


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Overview Map
Note: indicates countries of occurrence, actual area occupied by the species is usually much less. Footnote - please click for information on permanent, temporary breeding, or non-breeding distribution of birds.

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West Caribbean Map
Species not known to occur in this region.

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East Caribbean Map
Species not known to occur in this region.

Footnote - please click for information on permanent, temporary breeding, or non-breeding distribution of birds.
NOTE: Maps for birds indicate countries where a species occurs either as a resident (permanent or temporary breeding or nonbreeding) or as a passage migrant. Not all records of vagrant or accidental occurrences in a country are included in the database.

Summary Text |  Overview Map |  West Caribbean Map  |  East Caribbean Map |  Range Map

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. A shapefile of this map is available for download at

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2002

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Copyright 2008
Version 5.0 (10 April 2007)
Data last updated: April 2007
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