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Montana Field Guides

Brewer's Sparrow - Spizella breweri

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Species of Concern

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S3B
* (see State Rank Reason below)

Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS:
BLM: SENSITIVE
FWP Conservation Tier: 2
PIF: 2


 

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Copyright by Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, all rights reserved.
State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Species faces threats from loss of sagebrush habitats it is dependent on as a result of habitat conversion for agriculture and increased frequency of fire as a result of weed encroachment and drought.
  • Details on Status Ranking and Review
    Brewer's Sparrow (Spizella breweri) Conservation Status Review
    Review Date = 12/20/2011
    View State Conservation Rank Criteria
    Population Size

    ScoreU - Unknown

    CommentUnknown.

    Range Extent

    ScoreG - 200,000-2,500,000 km squared (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)

    Comment380,531 square kilometers based on Natural Heritage Program range maps that appear on the Montana Field Guide

    Area of Occupancy

    ScoreU - Unknown

    CommentUnknown.

    Long-term Trend

    ScoreD - Moderate Decline (decline of 25-50%)

    CommentSagebrush cover drastically reduced in Montana (25-50% decline) since European arrival.

    Short-term Trend

    ScoreE - Stable. Population, range, area occupied, and/or number or condition of occurrences unchanged or remaining within ±10% fluctuation

    CommentBBS data for Montana is of highest credibility and shows a +0.7% increase per year or 7% decline per decade. Recent slight increases or declines for most surrounding states and provinces.

    Threats

    ScoreB - Moderate and imminent threat. Threat is moderate to severe and imminent for a significant proportion (20-60%) of the population or area.

    CommentHabitat loss from agriculture, energy development and increased fire frequency resulting from weeds probably represent the greatest threats to the species.

    SeverityModerate - Major reduction of species population or long-term degradation or reduction of habitat in Montana, requiring 50-100 years for recovery.

    CommentIt takes a very long time for sagebrush communities to recover 30+ years.

    ScopeModerate - 20-60% of total population or area affected

    CommentFire as a result of weed encroachment on sagebrush communities represents a threat across large portions (20-60%) of the landscape.

    ImmediacyModerate - Threat is likely to be operational within 2-5 years.

    CommentOngoing and accelerating

    Intrinsic Vulnerability

    ScoreC - Not Intrinsically Vulnerable. Species matures quickly, reproduces frequently, and/or has high fecundity such that populations recover quickly (< 5 years or 2 generations) from decreases in abundance; or species has high dispersal capability such that extirpated populations soon become reestablished through natural recolonization (unaided by humans).

    Comment

    Environmental Specificity

    ScoreB - Narrow. Specialist. Specific habitat(s) or other abiotic and/or biotic factors (see above) are used or required by the Element, but these key requirements are common and within the generalized range of the species within the area of interest.

    CommentNarrow Specialist. Species is a sagebrush obligate.

    Raw Conservation Status Score

    Score 3.5 + 0.0 (geographic distribution) + 0.0 (environmental specificity) + 0.0 (short-term trend) - 0.75 (threats) = 2.75
    How Scores are Calculated

 
General Description
The Brewer's Sparrow is a nondescript sparrow of sagebrush habitats. In suitable habitat, the Brewer's Sparrow can be the most abundant species present. Its song, a series of distinctive long and short buzzy trills, can be heard throughout the breeding season (Rotenberry et al. 1999).

Phenology
Arrives on breeding grounds by late April. Nests with eggs observed as early as late May. Nestlings observed as early as early June and fledglings by early July (Montana Natural Heritage Program Point Observation Database 2014).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Sexes are similar in appearance. The crown is finely streaked brown; pale gray eyebrow, complete white eye-ring, and a grayish mustache. Underparts dull white, with grayish flanks; breast unstreaked in adult, although sometimes flanks are streaked. Back and rump brown, the latter streaked with black (Rotenberry et al. 1999).

Species Range
Montana Range

Click the legend blocks above to view individual ranges.

Western Hemisphere Range

 


Range Comments
The Brewer's Sparrow occurs throughout Montana during the breeding season in appropriate sagebrush habitats.

Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 5072

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

Breeding
(direct evidence "B")


Breeding
(indirect evidence "b")


No evidence of Breeding
(transient "t")


Overwintering
(regular observations "W")


Overwintering
(at least one obs. "w")



 

(Records associated with a range of dates are excluded from time charts)



Migration
Spring arrival records in Montana in mid- to late-April (Montana Natural Heritage Program Point Observation Database 2014). Fall movements from August to early October.

Habitat
The Brewer's Sparrow typically breeds in shrubsteppe habitats dominated by sagebrush. Densities of Brewer's Sparrow correlated with some aspect of total shrub cover (Rotenberry et al. 1999). In sagebrush areas in central Montana, Brewer's Sparrows nested in sagebrush averaging 16 inches high (Best 1970).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at bmaxell@mt.gov or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
The Brewer's Sparrow eats primarily insects during the breeding season, and young are fed almost exclusively arthropods (Rotenberry et al. 1999). Foraging occurs primarily in shrubs. In central Montana, food volume was 71 to 81% animal (Coeopterans and Hemipterans) and 8 to 17% plant (grass seeds), although chemical spraying may have led to a greater dependence on plants (Best 1970).

Ecology
In central Montana, an average of 37 breeding pairs were found per 100 acres. This species is frequently parasitized by the Brown-headed Cowbird but depends upon size of nearby cowbird populations (Rotenberry et al. 1999).

Reproductive Characteristics
In central Montana, 74% of nests were found between 6 to 8 inches above the ground in big sagebrush (Davis 1961). Clutch size is 3-4 eggs. Females primarily incubate, with the incubation period averaging 11 days (range 10-12 days). Some evidence that males also incubate. Nestling period 6-9 days after eggs hatch. Both parents feed fledged young for at least several days after fledging (Rotenberry et al. 1999).

Management
Management activities that result in a reduction of sagebrush reduces breeding populations of Brewer's Sparrow. Re-seeding areas with non-native bunchgrasses such as crested wheatgrass degrades habitat quality for this species. Additionally, areas affected by cheatgrass can experience increased frequency and severity of fires, which can reduce or eliminate sagebrush (Hansley and Beauvais 2004). The recent Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat Conservation Strategy developed for Montana may also assist in the conservation and management of other sagebrush-dependent species, including the Brewer's Sparrow.

Threats or Limiting Factors
The primary threat to Brewer's Sparrow breeding populations is fragmentation and loss of sagebrush shrublands and shrub-steppe habitats (Rotenberry et al. 1999).

References
  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
    • Best, L.B. 1970. Effects of ecological changes induced by various sagebrush control techniques on non-game birds. M.S. thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 74pp.
    • Davis, C.V. 1961. A distributional study of the birds of Montana. Ph.D. dissertation. Oregon State University, Corvallis. 462 pp.
    • Rotenberry, J. T., M. A. Patten, and K. L. Preston. 1999. Brewer's sparrow (Spizella breweri). In: A. Poole and F. Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Number 390. The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA. 24 pp.
    • Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. 829 pp.
    • Beak Consultants, Inc., Portland, OR., 1983, Wildlife. January 1983. In Stillwater Project Environmental Studies. Addendum A, Wildlife. Vol. I. Tech. Report No. 7. 1982.
    • Best, L. B. and K. L. Peterson. 1985. Seasonal changes in detectability of sage and Brewer's sparrows. Condor 87:556-558.
    • Casey, D. 2000. Partners in Flight Draft Bird Conservation Plan Montana. Version 1.0. 287 pp.
    • Chalfoun, A. 2005. Habitat use and quality for non-game shrub-steppe birds, Final performance report
    • Decker Coal Co., 1981, Wildlife survey. July 7, 1981. In North Decker 5-Year Permit Application. Vol. III. Rule 26.4.304(12-14).
    • Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant landbirds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. U.S.D.A. For. Serv. N. Region Publ. R1-93-34. Missoula, Mont.
    • Dobkin, D.S. 1994. Conservation and management of neotropical migrant landbirds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. Univ. Idaho Press, Moscow, Idaho. 220 pp.
    • ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1977, Colstrip 10 x 20 Area wildlife and wildlife habitat annual monitoring report, 1977. Proj. 164-85-A. December 31, 1977.
    • ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1979, Area B four-section wildlife report. August 3, 1979.
    • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp.
    • Eng, Robert. L., 1976?, Wildlife Baseline Study [for West Fork of the Stillwater and Picket Pin drainages]
    • Feist, F.G. 1968. Breeding bird populations in relation to proposed sagebrush control in central Montana. M.S. Thesis, r10ntana State University, Bozeman. 41 pp. Audubon Field Notes 22:691-695.
    • Fjell, Alan K., and Brian R. Mahan., 1985, Peabody Coal Company Big Sky Mine, Rosebud County, MT. Wildlife monitoring report: 1984 field season. February 1985.
    • Hutto, R. L. and J. S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-32. U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, and Rocky Mountain Research Station, Ogden, UT. 72 pp.
    • Johnsgard, P. A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 539 pp.
    • Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana Bird Distribution, 6th Edition. Montana Audubon: Helena, MT, 144 pp.
    • Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
    • Powder River Eagle Studies, Inc., Gillette, WY., 1993, Big Sky Mine 1992 wildlife monitoring. Rev. February 1993.
    • Powder River Eagle Studies, Inc., Gillette, WY., 1995, Big Sky Mine 1994 wildlife monitoring studies. March 1995
    • Powder River Eagle Studies, Inc., Gillette, WY., 1996, Spring Creek Mine 1995 Wildlife Monitoring Studies. Spring Creek Coal Company 1995-1996 Mining Annual Report. Vol. I, App. I. May 1996.
    • Powder River Eagle Studies, Inc., Gillette, WY., 1997, Spring Creek Mine 1996 Wildlife Monitoring Studies. February 1997.
    • Pyrah, Duane, and Edward F. Schlatterer, 1968, Ecological effects of chemical and mechanical sagebrush control. Ecology of sagebrush control. W-105-R-2, A-1 and B-1 through B-10, July 1, 1966 through June 30, 1967.
    • Rising, J.D. 1996. A guide to the identification and natural history of the sparrows of the United States and Canada. Academic Press, Inc., San Diego, CA. 365 pp.
    • Rotenberry, J. T., M. A. Patten, and K. L. Preston. 1999. Brewer's Sparrow (Spizella breweri). Species Account Number 390. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database
    • Roy F. Weston, Inc., Bozeman, MT., and Western Technology and Engineering, Inc., Helena, MT., 1989, Stillwater PGM Resources East Boulder Project Addendum F: Supplemental Biological Studies. Final Report. December 1989.
    • Saab, V.A. and T.D. Rich. 1997. Large-scale conservation assessment for neotropical migratory land birds in the interior Columbia River Basin. T. M. Quigley, ed. USDA F.S., Pacific NW Research Station. Portland, OR. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-399. 56 pp.
    • Thompson, Richard W., Western Resource Dev. Corp., Boulder, CO., 1996, Wildlife baseline report for the Montana [Montanore] Project, Lincoln and Sanders counties, Montana. In Application for a Hard Rock Operating Permit and Proposed Plan of Operation, Montanore Project, Lincoln and Sanders Counties, Montana. Vol. 5. Stroiazzo, John. Noranda Minerals Corp., Libby, MT. Revised September 1996.
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Migratory Bird Management. 1995. Migratory nongame birds of management concern in the United States: the 1995 list. U.S. Government Printing Office: 1996-404-911/44014. 22 p.
    • U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages.
    • Waage, Bruce C., 1996, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: 1995 Annual Wildlife Monitoring Report; December 1, 1994 - November 30, 1995. February 28, 1996.
    • Walker, B. 2004. Effects of management practices on grassland birds: Brewer’s Sparrow. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, Jamestown, ND. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
    • WESTECH Env. Services, Inc., Helena, MT., 2000, Reconnaissance of wildlife and fisheries resources at the Ruby Garnet Alder Gulch property. May 24, 2000. In Application for an Operating Permit and Proposed Plan of Operations, Alder Gulch Mine Project, Madison County, Montana. Appendix J: Wildlife Reconnaissance. Cominco American Resources, Inc. Assisted by Hydrometrics, Inc. Prepared for Montana Dept. of State Lands. [June 6, 2000].
    • Western Energy Co., Colstrip, MT., 1981, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: Annual Wildlife Report, 1981.
    • Western Energy Co., Colstrip, MT., 1982, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: Annual Wildlife Report, 1982.
    • Western Technology and Engineering, Inc. (WESTECH). 1994. Wildlife Monitoring Absaloka Mine Area Annual Report, 1993. Montana SMP 85005. OSMP Montana 0007C. Mar. 12, 1994.
    • Western Technology and Engineering, Inc. (WESTECH)., 1989, Wildlife monitoring: Absaloka Mine Area Annual Report, 1989. 12/21/88-12/20/89. Montana SMP 85005 R1. OSMP Montana 0007B. Febr. 15, 1990.
    • Western Technology and Engineering, Inc. (WESTECH)., 1990, Wildlife monitoring: Absaloka Mine Area Annual Report, 1990. 12/21/89-12/20/90. Montana SMP 85005 R1. OSMP Montana 0007B. Febr. 15, 1991.
    • Western Technology and Engineering, Inc. (WESTECH)., 1991, Wildlife monitoring and additional baseline inventory: Absaloka Mine Area Annual Report, 1991. Montana SMP 85005 R1. OSMP Montana 0007B. Febr. 25, 1991.
    • Western Technology and Engineering, Inc. (WESTECH)., 1993, Wildlife Monitoring Asaloka Mine Area Annual Report, 1992. Montana SMP 85005 R1. OSMP Montana 00078. 1993.
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Citation for data on this website:
Brewer's Sparrow — Spizella breweri.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on December 19, 2014, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=ABPBX94040
 
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