Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Henslow's Sparrow

Centronyx henslowii

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.
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.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat 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.
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.
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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.


Eggs

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


Young

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

Diet

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.


Nesting

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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

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

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Migration

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

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Explosive 2-note sneeze, tsi-lick.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Henslow's Sparrow

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

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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