Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2017-06

Common name:

Bell's Sparrow

Scientific name: Artemisiospiza belli canescens
Date:  Jan 28, 2017
Time: 10:30 am
Length of time observed: 10 mins
Number: 1
Age: adult
Sex: male
Location: Beaver Dam Slope
County: Washington
Elevation: 2,800'
Distance to bird: 20-60'
Optical equipment: 8x42 binoculars, and 500mm camera lens
Weather: Sunny and clear
Light Conditions: direct mid-morning sunlight
Description:        Size of bird: Small
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Sparrow
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: gray, brown, and white
(Description:)            Bill Type:  Conical
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
Head was gray-blue, with a white spot in front of and above the eye. Bright white throat and malar separated by a dark and obvious malar stripe.

Dark central breast spot, light htin streaks at the upper part of the flanks. Blurry brown and gray flanks, with minimal thin streaking--streaks mostly absent from sides. Undersides clean white.

Back was light brown and gray, with fine slightly darker brown streaks. No thick or blurry streaks, and depending on the lighting the streaks were sometimes very hard to make out.

Tail was all dark from above--no white outer edge, but had a slight white edge underneath that could be seen when flying over the road. This is within range for this species.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: Song and flight chip notes hear. The song is somewhere between a coastal Bell's Sparrow and a Sagebrush Sparrow. It has the structure of a SAGS song, but with the choppy notes of a Bell's Sparrow. This song is typical of the inland form of the BESP form listening to various recordings on Xeno Canto. Sagebrush Sparrow is usually quite crisp and musical where this song lacked that clarity.
Behavior:  Foraging, and moving around between the ground, rabbit brush, Joshua tree, and other Mojave bushes.
Habitat: Mojave Desert--scattered Joshua Trees, creosote, mesquite, rabbit brush, and other plants typical of this desert.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Sagebrush Sparrow:

We've been looking for the last few winters at Sagebrush Sparrow in this corner of the state with the thought that Bell's likely winter here with their inland southeast movement from their breeding grounds in interior California. They are known to winter in southern Nevada, California and across Arizona.

When we initially saw this Sparrow fly across the road we knew it was a Sage-type Sparrow. It landed and disappeared out of sight. We decided to coax it by playing a burst of song, but the recording we used has Bell's Sparrow at the beginning. When we played the song the bird shot right to the top of a bush and immediately started singing the buzzy, choppy, song that sounded like a mix between Sagebrush and coastal Bell's Sparrow. After consulting a few sources this appears to be the typical song of the Canescens subspecies of the Bell's Sparrow.

Aside from the song fitting the expected subspecies, this bird showed a solid and obvious dark malar stripe that is typically not found in SAGS--which usually show a faint, thin, or even broken malar stripe. This bird also lacks thick, and obvious streaking on the flanks as is typical with SAGS. The back pattern was also a good separator with faint and thin streaks scattered minimally across the back. In some lighting, they were apparent, while in other positions you could hardly see them. This is apparently fairly typical of Canescnes--and very different from the thick and obvious streaking on SAGS--even in the varied wear and extremes this bird seemed to come in with streaks that were far from the thinnest SAGS examples Pyle offered in his abstract. Finally, the bird showed no white on the edges of the tails when perched or seen from above. In flight, a white edge could be seen form below. SAGS typically show a white edge visible from the side, and top, and very obvious when
in flight from all angles.

The combination of features is in line with Canescnes Bell's Sparrow which are seen within 75 miles from this locations as the Bell's Sparrow flies.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
Have seen and heard many Sagebrush Sparrow's over the years. This was my first time seeing a Bell's Sparrow.
References consulted: Sibley Guide to Birds, National Geographic Guide to Birds,, the Macaulay Library, Peter Pyles abstract on separating Bell's and Sagebrush Sparrows.
Description from: Notes made later
Observer:  Tim Avery
Observer's address: Sandy, Utah
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Kenny Frisch and Nate Brown
Date prepared: 01/30/2017
Additional material: Photos Tape
Additional comments: Recording Here:
Photos Here: