The Henslow’s Sparrow is a small songbird, mostly brown with an intricately patterned back and wings. Their head is mostly olive green with to black stripes along the crown. Their body has flecks of dark brown, chestnut brown and white. The Henslow’s Sparrow has a unique call that is often mistaken for an insect call- it is quick, high pitched and metallic. In fact, most of the sounds that make up the call is too high for human ears to hear, so it is much more complex than it sounds.
Their diet is primarily made up of grassland insects like grasshoppers, beetles, and caterpillars during the breeding season, and during the winter they will eat mostly seeds and berries. The Henslow’s Sparrow feeds mainly from off the ground and prefers open, undisturbed grasslands to forage.
Biology and Behaviour:
The Henslow’s Sparrow is hard to find since they stay hidden amongst dense grasses, and generally prefer running along the ground than flying. Adults arrive at their breeding grounds beginning in late April, rarely returning to the same site as previous years. The female arrives a week after the male, and constructs a nest close to the ground amongst tufts of grass. The male may be seen while perched on shrubs to sing. They will sing throughout the breeding season, especially at night. An average of 4 eggs are laid, and multiple clutches are common. Females incubate the eggs for 8 to 10 days, then both parents feed the nestlings. In August, adults undergo a post-breeding molt before their fall migration.
They may be confused with several other sparrow species, especially the Grasshopper Sparrow. The Henslow’s Sparrow can be distinguished by its flat head, shorter tail, and lightly streaked pale chest
Conservation and recovery strategies:
The Ontario Government intends to begin Henslow’s Sparrow recovery by setting aside 50 hectares of suitable grassland habitat that is capable of supporting up to 10 Henslow’s Sparrow pairs. They have committed to protecting the sparrow’s habitat through the Endangered Species Act, and encourage collaboration amongst different agencies working on the issue. They aim to increase the amount of grassland habitat available using private property through education and stewardship (including the development of Best Management Practices, BMPs).
The American Fish and Wildlife Service’s recovery plan focuses on filling in knowledge gaps through research on the species range behaviour. They also intend to protect, maintain, and restore native grassland habitat. Reclaimed mine sites may also be converted into suitable habitat if they are maintained properly.
- This bird was named after John Stevens Henslow, who was a botanist, a teacher of Charles Darwin, and a friend of John James Audubon
- The Henslow’s Sparrow sings most often at dawn and dusk, but will also sometimes sing throughout the night
- It is difficult to get proper population estimates of the Henslow’s Sparrow in Canada because they do not return to the same sites each year, and they stay very well hidden amongst tall grass
- The oldest recorded Henslow’s Sparrow was found in Louisiana and was 6 years old
COSEWIC. 2010. COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens) in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. X + 38 pp.
Environment Canada. 2012. Recovery strategy for the Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens) and the Hooded Warbler (Wilsonia citrina) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa, Ontario. viii + 32 pp.
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. 2016. Recovery Strategy for the Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens) in Ontario. Ontario Recovery Strategy Series. Prepared by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Peterborough, Ontario. v + 5 pp. + Appendix.
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