Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bell's Sparrows

Earlier in April, during our visit to Carrizo Plain, I was interested in more than just the beautiful wildflowers; I had my eye on a few bird species as well.  In addition to more flashy Horned Larks and Lark Sparrows, little Bell's Sparrows (Artemisiospiza belli) also caught my attention (and offered some good photo opportunities!)

Prior to 2013, the Bell's Sparrow and similar Sagebrush Sparrow (Artemisiospiza nevadensis) were considered a single species, the Sage Sparrow.  The two species are best distinguished by their range. Sage Sparrows have a larger range, which covers much of intermountain west; they can be found year round in the sagebrush lands of the Great Basin.  The range of the Bell's Sparrow overlaps with that of the Sagebrush Sparrow in eastern California, especially during the winter, and the two species can be very difficult to tell apart.  During the breeding season, Bell's Sparrows can safely be identified on their breeding grounds in coastal California and Mojave Desert.

Like many other sparrows, Bell's Sparrows can be quite inconspicuous as they spend much of their time foraging on the ground beneath shrubs for insects and seeds.  But during the breeding season, especially in the morning, males have a habit of perching on top of shrubs in the open to sing.  The male Bell's Sparrow's song was what initially attracted my attention to these lovey little birds.

Bell's Sparrows prefer shrubby habitat, such as sagebrush scrub and coastal chaparral.  Saltbushes (Atriplex sp.) and sagebrushes (Artemisia sp.) are two types of plants these birds are commonly associated with across their range.  In the Mojave, they also make use of abundant creosote bush scrub.

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