Sage Sparrow (Amphispiza belli)
Associated Species: Other species that may use habitat in a similar way and/or respond similarly
to threats, management, and conservation activities include Sage Grouse, Sage Thrasher, and
Distribution: Sage Sparrows breed from western Wyoming west to central Washington, and as
far south as north central New Mexico in the east and Baja California in the west; they are also
found in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. In Colorado, Moffat County
has the greatest concentration of Sage Sparrows, with Mesa, Montrose, and Montezuma counties
having smaller concentrations. Sage Sparrows have a very limited distribution in Colorado in
Physiographic Area 62, occurring only uncommonly in the mountain parks. Their elevational
range is narrower than that of the other sagebrush obligate species and lies at the low to middle
elevations of sagebrush. These sparrows winter in the Southwest, Baja California, and northern
Habitat Requirements: As its name suggests, this species breeds almost exclusively in
sagebrush (especially big sagebrush), or sagebrush mixed with other shrubs. It prefers semi-open
to dense stands of evenly-spaced to clumped, 0.5 to 2 m (1.5-6.5 ft) tall sagebrush (Knick and
Rotenberry 1995). As ground feeders, they prefer only a modest amount of understory
vegetation. Like the Brewer's Sparrow, this species requires large, contiguous sagebrush stands.
Not all necessary habitat features have been identified, however, as this species is often absent
from areas where the habitat otherwise appears suitable.
Ecology: Most individuals of this species arrive in Colorado by April, initiate nesting by May,
and fledge young during June and July. Most birds leave the state by mid October. Their diet
consists primarily of insects and spiders, but they also eat some grass and forb seeds and small
Management Issues and Conservation Recommendations: Sage Sparrows prefer large
patches of sagebrush, and may need patches of continuous habitat of at least 130 ha (320 ac);
however, at least one study has shown that this species will accept the loss of up to 50% of the
shrubs to wildfire or prescribed fire, provided the landscape pattern is a mosaic of burned and
unburned areas (Petersen and Best 1987).
Status and Reasons for Concern: This species is on the national Watch List, indicating a high
conservation need throughout its range. Sage Sparrows are not adequately monitored by the
BBS within Physiographic Area 62, and BBS data collected between 1969 and 1996 are too
sparse to allow analysis of trend (n = 6 routes). This species is monitored by MCB with tracking
Biological Objective: Maintain or increase the species' distribution and abundance, based upon
results of the BBS and MCB programs.
Selected References: Andrews and Righter 1992, Kingery 1998, Martin and Carlson 1998.