At a Glance

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.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Desert and Arid Habitats, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Alaska and The North, California, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


5" (13 cm). Small and slim, with relatively long tail. Lacks obvious marks. Plainer face than Chipping or Clay-colored Sparrows. Those nesting high above treeline from Montana to Alaska might be separate species, "Timberline Sparrow."
About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Gray, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Alternating trills, musical or buzzy, often quite prolonged. Call note a soft seep, most often given in flight.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Trill, Whistle


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.



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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Still common in the center of its range, but showing population declines in peripheral areas, probably because of habitat loss.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Brewer's Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

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.