Savannah Sparrow
(Passerculus sandwichensis)


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

The Savannah Sparrow is one of the most widespread species in Canada, breeding in open habitats across the country. The Breeding Bird Survey indicates that populations have undergone a moderate but steady decrease since 1970, although the species remains very abundant. Taxonomy of the Savannah Sparrow is complex, with 17 recognised subspecies (Wheelwright and Rising 2008). Conservation interest has focused on the princeps (or "Ipswich") subspecies, which is endemic to Canada, breeding almost exclusively on Sable Island, Nova Scotia. In 1979, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada assessed the princeps subspecies as Special Concern (confirmed in 2000 and 2009) because its restricted range makes it vulnerable to short-term changes in a variety of limiting factors including threats from sea level rise, increasing frequency of Atlantic storms, and development pressure on shoreline wintering habitats (COSEWIC 2009b). It was listed as such under the Species at Risk Act in 2003. With such a large percentage of the global breeding population, Canada's responsibility for the princeps subspecies 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 Concern2009Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies
SARA (Canada)Special Concern2003Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies
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
Savannah Sparrow princeps subspeciesLarge IncreaseHighBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada> 50,000,000 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

General nesting period in Canada

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

Conservation and management

Although apparently declining over the past several decades, the species has generally benefited from the changes brought by human activity and is likely more common now than before the settlement period (Wheelwright and Rising 2008). Urbanization, reversion of marginal farmland to forest, and earlier cutting of hayfields during the breeding season may, in part, be the cause of recent declines (Wheelwright and Rising 2008). Canada has a high responsibility for the conservation of the princeps subspecies, as virtually its entire breeding population is restricted to Sable Island, Nova Scotia. The island is designated as a Migratory Bird Sanctuary and is a National Park Reserve, providing effective protection from human encroachment and development for the breeding population. The restricted range makes the subspecies vulnerable to local and chance events such as sea level rise and severe weather events (COSEWIC 2009b). Parts of the wintering grounds are also protected but evaluation of the effectiveness of habitat protection efforts is hampered by a lack of understanding of the bird's microhabitat needs (COSEWIC 2009b). For information on the legal status of this subspecies under the Species at Risk Act and to view available recovery documents, see the Species at Risk Public Registry.


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
Atlantic Northern ForestsAtlantic Northern Forests, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NS -- Stewardship
Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence PlainLower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Plain, sub-region and priority type: Ontario -- Conservation
Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence PlainLower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Plain, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Conservation