Clay-colored Sparrow
(Spizella pallida)


Picture of bird
© Jukka Jantunen (
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The Clay-colored Sparrow breeds in shrubby habitats, primarily in grassland ecosystems across the Prairie Provinces. Clearing of forested habitats for agriculture allowed this species to expand out of the prairies in the first half of the 1900s (Grant and Knapton 2012). It is well monitored by the Breeding Bird Survey, which shows a moderate decrease since about 1970. Canada is home to about 85% of the world's breeding population of the Clay-colored Sparrow, leading to a very high level of responsibility for the species. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Secure2015 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaModerate DecreaseHighBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada5,000,000 - 50,000,000 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population
CanadaVery High

General nesting period in Canada

Nesting period starts between mid-May and late May and ends in late July, depending on the region. Before or after this period, the probability of an active nest is lower.

Conservation and management

Continued conversion of grass and shrub habitat to agriculture, intensification of agriculture, and prescribed burns has and continues to negatively affect Clay-colored Sparrows, but the species has also likely benefited from other actions of humans on the landscape (e.g., fire suppression on grasslands allowing proliferation of low shrub, and forest clearing; Grant and Knapton 2012). Planting of exotic species such as crested wheatgrass in native prairie reduces the frequency of species' occurrence (Davis and Duncan 1999). Significant change in grassland cover within the wintering grounds has also occurred (Panjabi et al. 2010) though the specific impact on Clay-colored Sparrow populations is unknown. The preservation of remaining grassland and low shrub habitat throughout the species' range is the main priority for conservation (Grant and Knapton 2012).


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Boreal Taiga PlainsBoreal Taiga Plains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Stewardship
Prairie PotholesPrairie Potholes, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Conservation & Stewardship