Adult, coastal form. Photo: Budgora/Flickr (CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Bell's Sparrow

Artemisiospiza belli

Formerly considered part of the same species as the Sagebrush Sparrow, this bird is locally common in sage scrub habitat near the California coast and locally in open habitats of the interior. It is often seen running about on the ground, with its longish tail cocked up above the level of its back; when perched up on a shrub, it twitches its tail in a down-up motion like a phoebe.
Conservation status As with various other species along California coast, may be vulnerable to loss of habitat. The endemic race on San Clemente Island, California, is endangered.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Coastal sage scrub, chaparral; in winter, also deserts. Found year-round in unique sage scrub habitat on the California coastal slope and foothills. In the interior, also breeds in saltbush, chamise, and other low shrubs of arid flats. In winter some spread eastward into open flats and deserts with scattered brush.
Formerly considered part of the same species as the Sagebrush Sparrow, this bird is locally common in sage scrub habitat near the California coast and locally in open habitats of the interior. It is often seen running about on the ground, with its longish tail cocked up above the level of its back; when perched up on a shrub, it twitches its tail in a down-up motion like a phoebe.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on the ground, picking up items from the soil or from plant stems, sometimes scratching with its feet. Also does some feeding up in low bushes. When not nesting, may forage in small flocks.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5. Bluish white to pale blue, variably spotted or blotched with brown, gray, and black. Incubation lasts about 13-16 days.


Young

Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 9-11 days after hatching. Often 2 broods per year, sometimes 3.

Diet

Mostly seeds and insects. Feeds on many insects, especially in summer, including grasshoppers, beetles, true bugs, and others, also spiders. Also eats many seeds of weeds, grasses, and shrubs. Young are fed mostly insects.


Nesting

Male returns to same nesting territory each year, defends it by singing from a raised perch. Nest site is usually in low shrub, less than 4' above the ground. Sometimes placed on the ground under a shrub. Nest is a bulky open cup, made of twigs, sticks, lined with fine dry grass, weeds, sometimes animal hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Populations west of the Sierra in California are mostly permanent residents. Those from the interior are more migratory, with some spreading eastward into Arizona in winter.

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Migration

Populations west of the Sierra in California are mostly permanent residents. Those from the interior are more migratory, with some spreading eastward into Arizona in winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls

Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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Bell's Sparrow in Action



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Bald Eagle. Photo: Don Berman/Audubon Photography Awards

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