The Grasshopper Sparrow is a small songbird that is mottled brown, and has a white or tan coloured underbelly. They have a large bill, a sharp tail, and pale legs. Their head is flat on top and has a white stripe down the middle. Both males and females look very similar to each other. They are most often identified by their buzzy song, which is said to sound like a grasshopper, or a “buzzy trill”.
The Grasshopper Sparrow gets its name from having a diet that is largely made up of grasshoppers. Their breeding diet besides grasshoppers is mostly insects like beetles, caterpillars, and spiders which make up 80% of their diet in some areas. In the winter, seeds make up a larger portion of their diet. They feed off of the ground or from the bases of plants, so exposed ground is important for their habitat.
Biology and Behaviour:
The male Grasshopper Sparrows return to their Ontario breeding grounds in late April or early May. Females arrive 5-10 days later and form pair bonds. The females build a cup nest with grass and dead vegetation. An average of 4-5 eggs are laid, and hatchlings are fed by both parents for about a week. The young fledge from the nest starting at the end of June, and rely on parents for another three weeks. Fall migration begins in late August.
The Grasshopper Sparrow breeding success depends largely on the amount of predation pressure they face. Success rates range from 7 to 83%. Predators are thought to include skunks, foxes, squirrels, crows, raccoons, snakes, and domestic cats.
- Le Conte’s Sparrow has a white central stripe down its crown, grey cheeks, and dark striping down its sides
- The Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow has a grey central stripe down its crown, and an orange face
- Henslow’s Sparrow has dark streaks on their under feathers, and a triangular ear pattern
Conservation and recovery strategies:
As with other grassland birds, some simple changes in management technique could make a huge difference. Most conservation efforts are through voluntary conservation efforts, since much of their habitat occurs on private land. There have also been some efforts to create special incentive programs to encourage stewardship in agriculture. Delaying hay cutting until mid-August or September could be very beneficial for these birds. Recovery programs in place for the Loggerhead Shrike should also help populations of Grasshopper Sparrows. Both of these bird species nest on the Carden and Napanee Alvars. Since the Grasshopper Sparrow is listed as Special Concern in Ontario and nothing is directly being done to conserve this species, voluntary programs and aiding other Species at Risk will also help the Grasshopper Sparrow.
Bezener, A. 2000. Birds of Ontario. Lone Pine Publishing. Edmonton, ON.
COSEWIC. 2013. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Grasshopper Sparrow pratensis subspecies Ammodramus savannarum pratensis in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. ix + 36 pp. (www.registrelepsararegistry.gc.ca/default_e.cfm).
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