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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.

Songs

The song of the Harris's Sparrow is a simple plaintive whistle made up of 1–3 evenly spaced notes. This is one song that is easy to imitate because each note is on the same pitch. Its song lasts for about 2 seconds, but it will continue to sing about 10 songs per minute, often singing for nearly an hour. Sometimes it will mix in a few buzzy, hoarse notes into its song. The male sings from exposed perches within its territory, singing more frequently in the morning and in the evening than during midday.

Calls

  • Song
     
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Male and female sparrows most often call with a loud tchip when foraging in flocks and connecting with each other. When they are alarmed they utter a louder weenk.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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