Bell’s Sparrow

Artemisiospiza belli
Range Map

In 2013, scientists decided the bird we knew as the Sage Sparrow is actually two species. One is resident in southern and coastal California, and became the Bell’s Sparrow (Artemisiospiza belli). The other, the so called ‘Interior’ group breeding in the Great Basin, became the Sagebrush Sparrow (Artemisiospiza nevadensis). This second group spends winters in Arizona, New Mexico, west Texas and Mexico.

Science has lumped and split this complex of sparrows several times since they were first described in the 1800s as “Bell’s Sparrow”. In 1910, they were split into the two groups recognised today, and in 1957 they were lumped once again. In 2013, they were split again into the sets described in 1910, and they remain recognised this way today.

Modern science recognises four subspecies of Bell’s Sparrow:

  • A. b. belli lives in the California Coast Ranges from San Francisco and the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, and south to northern Baja California (Mexico).
  • A. b. canescens breeds inland in southern California from the San Joaquin Valley through the Mojave Desert to Owens Valley. Some birds migrate up-slope or to the Colorado Desert in winter.
  • A. b. clementae lives on San Clemente Island.
  • A. b. cinerea lives on the central Baja California peninsula (Mexico).

I met these in the foothills of the San Diego back country, when we still called it the “Sage Sparrow”.

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