San Clemente Island Bell’s (Sage) Sparrow

Since late 2012, I have been working for the Institute for Wildlife Studies on the San Clemente Bell’s Sparrow (Artemisiospiza belli clementeae; formerly known as the Sage Sparrow) in California.


The San Clemente Bell’s sparrow is a federally threatened subspecies endemic to San Clemente Island, California.  This species is non-migratory, but the population declined in the last half of the 20th century due to destruction of native shrub cover by introduced goats and other ungulates.  Removal of the goats and subsequent reestablishment of native vegetation has been accompanied by San Clemente Bell’s sparrow breeding range expansion into areas and vegetation types that previously were not available or were considered unsuitable.

My study examines the Bell’s sparrow distribution during the breeding season, monitors their nesting success, and describes their habitat use across the island.

In addition, the project also studied the Bell’s sparrow distribution, habitat use, and behavior during the non-breeding season.  Because this species does not migrate, and no other Bell’s sparrow subspecies overwinter on SCI, we have a rare opportunity to see how a population uses the island during the winter, how frequently the sparrows form groups, and how far individuals move.  We presented a poster of our results at the 2016 Western Section of the Wildlife Society – Munoz_etal_BESP-NBBehavior.

Results of the research on Bell’s sparrow nest success and associated habitat were published in The Condor in 2020 (see Publications page).  Additional data has been summarized each year in technical reports to the Navy (Technical Reports section of Publications page).

As a side effect of the investigations we have conducted into the interaction of Bell’s sparrows with the vegetation on San Clemente Island, we developed a field guide to assist in identification of the plants that grow there.  Copies of A Field Guide to the Plants of San Clemente Island are available on request (email: smeiman AT

On San Clemente Island, Bell’s sparrows have only recently occupied areas where large-scale fires occur. As a result, we have limited data quantifying the extent to which fire changes Bell’s sparrow presence and density at scales large enough to potentially affect their population. Using Bell’s sparrow survey data from 2013 to 2019 combined with fire history on San Clemente, I conducted exploratory analysis to determine whether Bell’s sparrow presence and density differed where fire occurred after 1979 compared to other areas, and whether there were detectable long-term effects after a fire.  At this scale, fire was associated with reduced sparrow presence and density. I presented a poster about this at the 2022 Ecological Society of America conference in Montreal, Quebec.- Meiman_SCI_BESP_and_Fire.