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Harris's Sparrow


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The striking Harris's Sparrow is rarely found far east or west of the middle of North America. It breeds along the edge of boreal forest and tundra in north-central Canada, and spends the winter in the very central region of the United States.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
6.7–7.9 in
17–20 cm
10.6 in
27 cm
0.9–1.7 oz
26–49 g
Other Names
  • Bruant à face noire (French)

Cool Facts

  • Because of its remote and restricted breeding grounds, the Harris's Sparrow was one of the last North American species to have its nest discovered. The first nest was found in 1931 at Churchill, Manitoba, by soon-to-be Cornellian George M. Sutton.
  • The Harris's Sparrow is the only bird species that breeds in Canada and nowhere else in the world.
  • In winter flocks, Harris's Sparrows maintain linear dominance hierarchies that determine access to food and roost sites. The most dominant birds are the oldest males, and they also have the largest bibs. If first winter birds have their feathers dyed black, creating an artificially large bib, they rise in the dominance hierarchy.
  • The oldest recorded Harris's Sparrow was at least 11 years, 8 months old, when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Kansas in 1983.



Breeds at edge of boreal forest and tundra. Winters along hedgerows, shelterbelts, agricultural fields, weed patches, and pastures.



Seeds, fruits, arthropods, and young conifer needles.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–5 eggs
Egg Description
Pale green with irregular spots and blotches.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless with sparse gray down.
Nest Description

Nest an open cup of mosses, small twigs, and lichens, lined with dried grass and often some caribou hair. Placed on ground, sunken into moss and lichens.

Nest Placement



Ground Forager

Feeds primarily on ground. Picks food from ground, and scratches some in litter with both feet. Comes to feeders.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Harris’s Sparrows breed in remote areas of northern Canada, outside the area covered by the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The best long-term data on their overall numbers comes from the Christmas Bird Count, conducted on their wintering grounds in the United States. These suggest that the species declined by 1.8% per year between 1965 and 2003 (amounting to a cumulative decline of 49% over that period). Additional surveys conducted since then show a continued decline. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 2 million, all of which breed in northern Canada and winter in the U.S. The species rates a 13 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds Watch List. The causes of decline are not known but could include changes in agricultural practices in the U.S. such as removing hedgerows, and the effects of global warming on their breeding grounds.


Range Map Help

View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Backyard Tips

This species often comes to bird feeders. 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.

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eBird Occurrence Maps, Harris’s Sparrow



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