Species Profile

Henslow's Sparrow

Scientific Name: Ammodramus henslowii
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: Ontario, Quebec
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2011
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: C2a(i,ii); D1
COSEWIC Reason for Designation:

In Canada, this species occurs sporadically in Ontario and Quebec. Its Canadian population is extremely small, ranging from 0 to 25 individuals depending on the year. Populations in adjacent parts of the U.S., which are a likely source of birds for Canada, are declining. Habitat loss is ongoing for this species.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in April 1984. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in April 1993. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2000 and May 2011.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Henslow's Sparrow

Henslow's Sparrow Photo 1



Henslow’s Sparrow is a small grassland bird. Males and females cannot be distinguished by appearance. The top of the head, the hind-neck, and the sides of the neck of all adults are pale olive green. There are two black stripes on the bird’s crown, on either side of a pale stripe. The species’ back is black and the back feathers have white tips. The rump, wings and tail are chestnut, with black in the middle of the feathers, and the breast, sides, and flanks are buff with black streaks. Young Henslow's Sparrows have buff underparts with no streaks.


Distribution and Population

Henslow’s sparrow breeds only in the northeastern United States and southern Canada, and winters in the southern United States in the Gulf coast states and South Carolina. In Canada, it now occurs in southern Ontario. Historical information indicates that the species probably occurred in natural prairie areas and that forest clearing in the 1800s probably lead to an expanded range for a time. In addition to southern Ontario, the Henslow’s sparrow used to occur in southwestern and eastern Ontario and also in Quebec. There is no early information on species population size and trends. It is very difficult to estimate the population size for this bird, but information suggests that the species has been declining since the 1950s. Henslow’s sparrows were known to breed in southern Quebec up until the late 1960s but are now considered vagrants in the province. In the 1980s, the Canadian population was estimated at no more than 50 pairs. Thorough searches for the bird were carried out in the early 1990s. These data suggest that less than 10 pairs were probably left at that time. Recent surveys have yielded similar results. In 1998, one bird was reported and at least one other was known to occur in the province.The latest population estimate available in 2001 counts 2 to 3 pairs of Henslow's Sparrows, with the total population remaining critically small.



Henslow’s sparrows occupy open fields. The vegetation of these areas includes tall grasses that are interspersed with tall herbaceous plants, or shrubby species. The sparrow avoids areas that have been grazed or burned. It prefers undisturbed areas with dense living grasses and a dense thatch of dead grasses. The species may occupy hayfields, but if the hay is cut early, the nests are destroyed and the resulting losses are severe. Only areas that remain undisturbed for several years appear to be more successfully colonized. The precise amount of remaining suitable habitat in Ontario is unknown.



Male Henslow's Sparrows arrive in the breeding areas ahead of the females in late April and early May. The age at which Henslow's Sparrows first breed is not known. Nests are built on the ground. Clutches contain from 3 to 5 eggs. Several pairs may nest in the same field, forming a small, loose colony. The species prefers to spend time out of sight in the long grass and herbs, and males can most easily be seen when they perch on plant tops to sing. Their song is a weak short insect-like se-lick.



The major limiting factor is loss of habitat, especially habitat used for breeding, and habitat used for wintering in the United States. Suitable Henslow’s sparrow habitat is lost through the conversion of grasslands and pastures to grow crops. It is also lost with the intensive use of land that leaves very little area undisturbed for periods of time. In addition, drainage of wetlands and wet grasslands, successional change to woodland and shrubland where fires are suppressed, and encroaching urbanization, all contribute to the loss of this species’ habitat. The vulnerability of this species is increased due to the fact that small populations of sparrows inhabitat isolated areas.



Federal Protection

The Henslow's Sparrow is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Henslow’s Sparrow occurs in several national wildlife areas, which are federal lands protected under SARA. It is the protected by the Canada National Parks Act within Point Pelee National Park. It is also protected by the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act. Under this Act, it is prohibited to kill, harm, or collect adults, young, and eggs. Provincially, it is protected under the Ontario Endangered Species Act.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.


Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

Name Amended Recovery Strategy for the Henslow’s Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry


Recovery Team

Henlow's Sparrow Recovery Team

  • Ken Tuininga - Chair/Contact - Environment Canada
    Phone: 416-739-5895  Fax: 416-739-4560  Send Email


Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date The 1994 Henslow’s Sparrow recovery plan identifies the loss of native grasslands as the probable cause of the species’ decline. However, it notes that some sites in Ontario still have apparently suitable habitat, but that birds no longer breed there. Thus, the plan recommends research into other factors (e.g., loss of wintering habitat, mortality between breeding seasons, local population losses owing to small numbers of individuals in isolated locations, or natural population fluctuations) that may also be affecting the species. The long-term objective of the recovery plan is to establish a stable or increasing breeding population of 500 adults distributed in different colonies across Ontario (e.g., 50 colonies with a minimum of 10 birds each). However, the sparrow is at severe risk of disappearing from Canada. A new recovery team is being established in 2005 to develop an updated recovery strategy. Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities The Henslow’s Sparrow population appears to have declined since the late 1990s. Several historic sites were surveyed in 2002. Habitat was found to have changed significantly and, as of 2005, there are no confirmed breeding locations in Ontario. Summary of Recovery Activities In 1998 an adaptive habitat management project was initiated at Ostrander Point in Prince Edward County. Approximately one third of the area identified for treatment was mowed and cleared of brush. In 1999 bird surveys were conducted to determine if the mowing and clearing of brush had a positive impact on Henslow’s Sparrow; several singing males were heard in 1999 and again in 2000, indicating that with careful habitat management this species may again breed here. In 2001 habitat stewardship and outreach activities were also initiated for potential Henslow’s Sparrow habitat on the Bruce Peninsula.


PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

7 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Henslow's Sparrow Ammodramus henslowii in Canada (2011-09-09)

    The Henslow’s Sparrow is a small short-tailed sparrow (13 cm, 10-15 g) distinguished by its relatively large, flat-topped head with olive-green colouring, chestnut-coloured wings and back, and lightly streaked pale breast. The Henslow’s Sparrow is considered an indicator species for the state of grassland habitats, including native prairies and surrogate agricultural grasslands in southern Ontario and in the eastern and central United States.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Henslow's Sparrow (2011-12-08)

    In Canada, this species occurs sporadically in Ontario and Quebec. Its Canadian population is extremely small, ranging from 0 to 25 individuals depending on the year. Populations in adjacent parts of the U.S., which are a likely source of birds for Canada, are declining. Habitat loss is ongoing for this species.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Henslow’s Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) in Canada (2010-09-15)

    Henslow’s Sparrow was officially assessed by the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as endangered in April 1993, and its status was confirmed in November 2000. It is also a migratory bird protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and is under the management jurisdiction of the federal government. The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed extirpated, endangered, or threatened species. Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service – Ontario led the development of this recovery strategy, which is an update of the National Recovery Plan for Henslow’s Sparrow (Austen et al. 1997), in cooperation with the Province of Ontario. The Province of Ontario reviewed and provided support to post this recovery strategy. This recovery strategy was posted as proposed on the Species at Risk Public Registry for a 60-day comment period in 2006. Comments were received and are addressed as appropriate in this final version.The Recovery Strategy for the Henslow’s Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) in Canada (Environment Canada, 2010) was posted on August 18, 2010. This recovery strategy was amended for the purpose of adding an omitted reference to the References section.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 - 2011 (2011-09-09)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings during the past year assessing the status or reviewing the classification of a total of 92 wildlife species.

Residence Description

  • Residence Description - Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus Henslowii) in Canada (2007-01-02)

    Section 33 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibits damaging or destroying the residence of a listed threatened, endangered, or extirpated species. SARA defines residence as: “a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating” [s.2(1)]. Preface updated on May 17, 2017.
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