Photo: Arthur Morris/Vireo

Brewer's Sparrow

Spizella breweri

One of the most characteristic summer birds of the sagebrush flats of the Great Basin is this drab little sparrow. The plainness of its plumage is compensated for by the remarkable variety in its song. The song is most fully developed in summer, but winter flocks may perch up in the tops of desert shrubs with several birds singing at once, creating a jumbled chorus.
Conservation status Still common in the center of its range, but showing population declines in peripheral areas, probably because of habitat loss.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Sagebrush, brushy plains; also near treeline in Rockies; in winter, also weedy fields. In summer typically in open flats covered with sagebrush; sometimes in stands of saltbush, on open prairie, or in pinyon-juniper woodland. Northern race (sometimes considered a separate species, called "Timberline Sparrow") summers at and above treeline in Canadian Rockies, in stunted thickets of willow, birch, and fir. In winter, found in open country, especially desert dominated by creosotebush.
One of the most characteristic summer birds of the sagebrush flats of the Great Basin is this drab little sparrow. The plainness of its plumage is compensated for by the remarkable variety in its song. The song is most fully developed in summer, but winter flocks may perch up in the tops of desert shrubs with several birds singing at once, creating a jumbled chorus.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages on the ground and in low shrubs. Except during nesting season, usually forages in flocks, often associated with other kinds of sparrows.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 5. Pale blue-green, with variable brown spotting often concentrated toward larger end. Incubation lasts 11-13 days, roles of sexes in incubation not well known. The incubating bird may sit motionless on nest until very closely approached. If disturbed, adult may fly away or may drop to the ground and sneak away through the grass. Young: Both parents probably feed the nestlings. Young birds leave nest about 8-9 days after hatching, before fully capable of flight. Adults may raise more than 1 brood per season.


Young

Both parents probably feed the nestlings. Young birds leave nest about 8-9 days after hatching, before fully capable of flight. Adults may raise more than 1 brood per season.

Diet

Mostly seeds and insects. Diet in summer is mostly insects, including beetles and beetle larvae, plant lice, caterpillars. By late summer more seeds are eaten, and in winter diet is mostly seeds. Can survive for an extended period on dry seeds, with no water.


Nesting

Male sings in spring to defend nesting territory. Nest site is almost always well concealed in low shrub, no more than 4' above ground, rarely on ground. Nest is a small, compact, open cup of grasses, weeds, twigs, rootlets, lined with finer plant material and with animal hair.

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

Migration

Migrates south relatively early in fall, and migrates north in mid- to late spring; some are present on wintering grounds for more than 9 months of year.

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Migration

Migrates south relatively early in fall, and migrates north in mid- to late spring; some are present on wintering grounds for more than 9 months of year.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Alternating trills, musical or buzzy, often quite prolonged. Call note a soft seep, most often given in flight.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Brewer's Sparrow

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Brewer's Sparrow

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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