Brewer’s Sparrow

Spizella breweri
Range Map

We usually find Brewer’s Sparrows in sagebrush and scrub habitat. They breed in the Great Basin, from the Rockies to the Sierra Nevada ranges. For a thousand miles north of the rest of its Brewer’s Sparrow cousins, in the northernmost range in the Rocky Mountains, the “Timberline Sparrow” (subspecies S. b. taverneri) makes its summer home. For a long time, science considered the Timberline Sparrow a separate species. Even to this day, some authorities maintain this view.

The great Harry Swarth, esteemed colleague of Joseph Grinnell, was part of the team that first described S. b. taverneri in 1925. I’m proud to say I’ve met two of his descendants and remain friends with his grandson, Chris Swarth to this day. Chris’s own credentials as a birder and naturalist are substantial.

This plain looking little sparrow has one of the bird world’s most interesting songs, which it loves to sing from elevated perches, even in winter. Boisterous and variable, it is ripe with trills and buzzy sounds.

Today, science recognises two subspecies of Brewer’s Sparrow:

  • S. b. breweri breeds from southern Canada and the western USA states south to California, northern Arizona, and northwestern New Mexico. After breeding ends, many fly south as far as Baja California and the central plateau of Mexico.
  • S. b. taverneri breeds in southeastern Alaska and western Canada, then flies south to join the rest of their clan for the winter.

My meetings with this species have come from all over California, in southern Oregon, in south-central Arizona, and in the Rio Grande Valley south of Langtry in Texas.

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