Bird GuideNew World SparrowsHenslow's Sparrow

At a Glance

In weedy eastern fields in summer, this little sparrow climbs to the top of a weed stalk, throws its head back, and delivers one of the least impressive of all bird songs, a short tsilick. When not singing it becomes extremely hard to observe, hiding in dense grass. If flushed, it flies away low for a short distance before dropping into the weeds. Despite its lack of vocal prowess, Henslow's Sparrow is a beautifully marked bird if seen well. Local populations vary from year to year; overall, the species is becoming quite scarce over most of its range.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Low Concern
Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Southeast, Texas
Running, Undulating

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Apparently migrates at night. Difficult to detect during migration period, but most probably move during late April and September.


5" (13 cm). Small, short-tailed, with flat-headed look. Olive-green wash on head contrasts with rich rusty brown back and wings. Sharp streaks on whitish chest and sides.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Green, Red, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Multi-pointed, Pointed, Rounded, Short

Songs and Calls

Explosive 2-note sneeze, tsi-lick.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Hi


Weedy fields. Requirements not well understood; often absent from seemingly suitable habitat. Breeds in fields and meadows, often in low-lying or damp areas, with tall grass, standing dead weeds, and scattered shrubs. Sometimes in old pastures, occasionally in hayfields. Winters in various kinds of rank weedy fields.



3-5. Whitish to pale greenish-white, with reddish-brown and gray spots concentrated toward the larger end. Incubation is by female only, about 11 days.


Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 9-10 days after hatching.

Feeding Behavior

Apparently does all of its foraging on the ground. Almost always forages alone, not associating in flocks with its own kind or other sparrows.


Mostly insects and seeds. Summer diet is mainly insects, including crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, stink bugs, caterpillars, small wasps, and many others, also some spiders and snails. Many seeds are also eaten, and probably make up the majority of the winter diet; included are seeds of weeds, grasses, and sedges.


May breed in small, loose colonies, which change in location from year to year; territories within these colonies are often separated by unoccupied ground, so there is little conflict among the birds. Males perch on exposed weeds to deliver their short, inconspicuous song. Courtship may involve male leading female to potential nest sites, carrying bits of grass in his bill. Nest site is on or near the ground, very well hidden. Usually placed in the base of a clump of grass, sometimes in a slight depression in the ground, occasionally more than a foot up among vertical stems. Ground nests often have grass partly arched over them, adding to concealment. Nest (built mostly by female) is an open cup of grass and weeds, lined with finer grass and sometimes with animal hair.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Has declined seriously in much of its former range, should be considered threatened. Loss of proper habitat is likely cause; habitat requirements are still not thoroughly understood.

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 Henslow's Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Henslow'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.

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