Harris's Sparrow
(Zonotrichia querula)


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

The Harris's Sparrow is the only songbird species that breeds exclusively in Canada, where it nests in the mosaic of scattered trees and tundra in the transition zone between the boreal forest and arctic tundra. Its population is best monitored through the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on its wintering grounds in the United States, data from which indicate a significant long-term decrease in abundance since 1970. In 2017, the Harris's Sparrow was assessed as a species of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada because of the significant decline in abundance (COSEWIC 2017d). Hosting the entire global breeding population, Canada's responsibility for this species' conservation is very high. 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
COSEWIC (Canada)Special Concern2017 
SARA (Canada)No Status  
IUCN (Global)Near threatened2018 
Partners in Flight (North America)Watch list - yellow D2017 
Wild Species (Canada)Apparently secure2015 
State of North America’s BirdsWatch list2016 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLarge DecreaseMediumBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada1,000,000 - 5,000,000 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population
CanadaVery High

Conservation and management

On the breeding grounds, the impact of forest fires can cause loss of nests, but can also have a positive influence by creating new habitat (COSEWIC 2017d) for Harris's Sparrow. The reduction and degradation of habitat as a logging and mine development, and the narrowing of the forest-tundra ecotone due to climate change are a concern (Norment et al. 2016, COSEWIC 2017d). On the wintering grounds, the conversion of grasslands to agriculture and potentially the effects of pesticides are considered factors in the decline of the species (COSEWIC 2017d).


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
Arctic Plains and MountainsArctic Plains and Mountains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Stewardship
Boreal Taiga PlainsBoreal Taiga Plains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Other
Taiga Shield and Hudson PlainsTaiga Shield and Hudson Plains, sub-region and priority type: Ontario -- Conservation
Taiga Shield and Hudson PlainsTaiga Shield and Hudson Plains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Other