At a Glance

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.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Near Threatened
Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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


7 1/2" (19 cm). A large sparrow. Adult has black face on buff or gray head, pink bill, bright white belly. Compare to Black-throated Sparrow, House Sparrow. Immature lacks black throat; note large size, pink bill, white belly.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Pink, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Series of clear, high notes followed by another series, each on a different pitch.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Whistle


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.



3-5, usually 4. Pale green, marked with brown. Incubation is by female only, 12-15 days.


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.

Feeding Behavior

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


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Common within its range, numbers apparently stable. Breeding range is mostly remote from effects of human activity.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Harris's Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Harris's Sparrow

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.