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Harris's Sparrow

Zonotrichia querula ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

It's not often that a sparrow takes center stage, but the Harris's Sparrow is a showstopper with its handsome black bib and pink bill. It’s North America's largest sparrow and the only songbird that breeds in Canada and nowhere else in the world. In winter it settles in the south-central Great Plains, where it is a backyard favorite. Unfortunately, Harris's Sparrow populations are declining; its restricted range make it vulnerable to habitat loss on the wintering and breeding grounds.

Keys to identification Help

Sparrows
Sparrows
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Harris's Sparrows are large and chunky sparrows. Their big barrel-shaped chest makes their round head look a little small for their body. They have a long tail and a medium-sized conical bill.

  • Color Pattern

    Harris's Sparrows are streaky brown and black overall with a black bib, face, and crown. As they get older, the black areas around the face change from patchy black in juveniles to fully black in adults. Breeding adults have a gray cheek and nape while these areas are brown in nonbreeding birds. Juveniles and adults in all seasons have a pink bill, a white belly, and black streaks down the back.

  • Behavior

    Harris's Sparrows spend a lot of time foraging on the ground, often venturing boldly out into the open to look for food. If disturbed while feeding they often fly up into a tree or shrub instead of running along the ground for cover.

  • Habitat

    Harris's Sparrows breed exclusively in northern Canada in areas of open tundra mixed with white pine, black spruce, larch, alder, and willow. In winter they use hedgerows, agricultural fields, shrubby pastures, backyards, and shrubby areas near streams of the southern Great Plains.

Range Map Help

Harris
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Similar Species

House Sparrows are smaller than Harris’s Sparrows and have a smaller black or yellowish (not pink) bill. They also have a rufous coloring to their wings and back, and lack any stripes on their chest. Lapland Longspurs are also smaller than Harris's Sparrows. Nonbreeding Lapland Longspurs have a cinnamon wing panel and nape that Harris's Sparrows lack. Longspurs also have yellow (not pink) bills.

Backyard Tips

This species often comes to bird feeders, and likes black oil sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

Birdscaping your yard to include brush piles and other bird friendly features can provide spots for them to forage and take refuge during migration and the winter. Learn more about birdscaping at Habitat Network.

Bird-friendly Winter Gardens, Birdsleuth, 2016.

Find This Bird

Unless you are ready to brave a trip to far northern Canada in the summer, you'll need to catch the Harris's Sparrow during migration or on the wintering grounds. Unlike many sparrows that tend to skulk around in dense scrubby patches of vegetation, Harris's Sparrows aren't very shy and often forage out in the open. Look for them foraging with other sparrows in shrubby areas and fields. Their size alone should make them stand out in the crowd. They also visit bird feeders, so if you live in their wintering range, try putting up a ground or platform feeder and stocking it with black oil sunflower seeds. Although they winter in a relatively small part of the continent, they tend to wander a lot during migration so you never know where one might show up. One or more individuals have shown up in every state in the lower 48.

Get Involved

Tell us how many Harris's Sparrows are at your feeders. Join Project FeederWatch and contribute your data to help monitor backyard birds.

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Watch their migration path on the eBird occurrence map for Harris's Sparrow

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The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation. You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell or give your email address to others.