Conservation status Still common and widespread in Great Basin region, numbers probably stable.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Dry brushy foothills, chaparral, sage; in winter, also deserts. Breeds in brushy open country. In northern and eastern part of range, mainly in stands of big sagebrush; farther southwest, mainly in saltbush, chamise, and other low shrubs of arid flats. Winters in dry chaparral, open flats with scattered brush, deserts.
In shrubby open flats of the West, such as the broad sagebrush plains of the Great Basin, the Sagebrush Sparrow is a common bird. 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. This bird and Bell's Sparrow were formerly lumped under the name of Sage Sparrow.

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, often forages in small flocks.


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.


Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 9-11 days after hatching. A pair may raise 2 broods per year.


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


Male returns to same nesting territory each year, defends it by singing from a raised perch. Nest site is usually in low shrub (usually in sagebrush or saltbush, depending on habitat), 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

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Birds from Great Basin mostly move south into deserts in winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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