Photo: Rob Curtis/Vireo

Harris's Sparrow

Zonotrichia querula

This big, elegant sparrow is a bird of the heartland, nesting in north-central Canada, wintering mainly on the southern Great Plains. Because of its remote habitat and shy behavior in summer, its nest was not discovered until 1931, long after those of most North American birds. Harris's Sparrow is more easily observed in winter on the southern plains. Flocks feed on the ground near brushy places, flying up when disturbed to perch in the tops of thickets, giving sharp callnotes.
Conservation status Common within its range, numbers apparently stable. Breeding range is mostly remote from effects of human activity.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Stunted boreal forest; in winter, brush, open woods. Breeds in the zone where northern forest gives way to tundra, in areas with mixture of stunted spruce or larch trees, shrubby thickets, and open tundra. During migration and winter, found in thickets, woodland edges, brushy fields, hedgerows, shelterbelts.
This big, elegant sparrow is a bird of the heartland, nesting in north-central Canada, wintering mainly on the southern Great Plains. Because of its remote habitat and shy behavior in summer, its nest was not discovered until 1931, long after those of most North American birds. Harris's Sparrow is more easily observed in winter on the southern plains. Flocks feed on the ground near brushy places, flying up when disturbed to perch in the tops of thickets, giving sharp callnotes.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • immature (1st winter)
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly while hopping on ground, sometimes scratching in leaf-litter with feet. Also does some foraging up in bushes.


Eggs

3-5, usually 4. Pale green, marked with brown. Incubation is by female only, 12-15 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave nest about 8-10 days after hatching, unable to fly until a few days later. 1 brood per year.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave nest about 8-10 days after hatching, unable to fly until a few days later. 1 brood per year.

Diet

Mostly seeds, insects, berries. Diet varies with season, may include more seeds in winter, berries in late spring after arrival on breeding grounds, insects during summer nesting season. Items important at some seasons include seeds of weeds and grasses, fruits of crowberry and bearberry, and various beetles, flies, caterpillars, true bugs, and other insects, as well as spiders. Also eats some flowers and conifer needles.


Nesting

Male defends nesting territory by singing and by actively chasing intruding males. Pairs form quickly after arrival on breeding grounds, soon after territories established. Nest site is on ground, usually on small hummock, well hidden under dwarf birch, alder, spruce, or other shrub or low tree. Typically in shallow depression scraped out in moss or other ground cover, sometimes placed under overhang of rock or soil. Nest (probably built by female) is a cup of moss, lichens, twigs, lined with fine grass and sometimes animal hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Travels slowly between summer and winter ranges, leaving nesting grounds by early September, arriving on wintering areas mostly in November. Migrates mainly at night.

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Migration

Travels slowly between summer and winter ranges, leaving nesting grounds by early September, arriving on wintering areas mostly in November. Migrates mainly at night.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Series of clear, high notes followed by another series, each on a different pitch.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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