Photo courtesy Charles Martinez
This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the sagebrush sparrow.
Portrayals of the wide-open spaces of the old west are of the sagebrush ecosystem, the most widespread ecosystem in the United States. Today, only half of the historical range of this ecosystem remains. Although it appears desolate and dry, this landscape supports over 350 wildlife species and provides forage for domestic livestock.
The sagebrush sparrow is one of the birds which requires healthy sagebrush habitat for breeding. In summer, it nests in the interior western United States between the Rocky Mountains and the western coastal mountain ranges, where in the right habitat it is a fairly common bird. Individuals are faithful to their home range both for nesting and wintering, returning to the same area year after year to raise young.
The sagebrush sparrow forages primarily on the ground, hopping or walking from place to place, holding its long tail upright. In summer, its feeding habits are opportunistic, eating insects, spiders, seeds, fruits and succulent vegetation. Like many species adapted to dry habitats, it obtains most of its water from the food that it eats.
This medium-sized sparrow has a brown back and rounded gray head. It displays a dark spot in the middle of its white breast. Bold white eye rings, white spots before the eyes and a white mustache bordered with a thin black stripe are identifying marks.
During migration it may appear in a small mixed flock with other sparrows. Today the sagebrush habitat is one of our most endangered, suffering from development, invasive plants, wildfire and overgrazing.
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