Coastal Vesper Sparrow
Scientific Name: Pooecetes gramineus affinis
Other/Previous Names: Vesper Sparrow affinis subspecies
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: British Columbia
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: April 2018
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2ac; B1ab(i,ii,iii,iv,v)+2ab(i,ii,iii,iv,v); C2a(i); D1
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This songbird is a distinct subspecies limited to the Pacific coastal plains of western North America, breeding in sparsely vegetated grasslands with scattered trees or shrubs and patches of bare soil. Its numbers are declining throughout its range, due to loss and degradation of breeding and wintering habitat. Despite targetted surveys, no breeding attempts have been confirmed in Canada since 2014, and the current Canadian population is near zero. Remaining patches of suitable nesting habitat are scarce on southeastern Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and continue to decline in extent and quality.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Endangered in April 2006. Status re-examined and confirmed in April 2018.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2007-12-13
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.
There are four recognized Vesper Sparrow subspecies, three of which nest in Canada. The affinis subspecies is the rarest Vesper Sparrow subspecies, and it is the only one found west of the Cascade mountain range.
The Vesper Sparrow is a medium-sized passerine that can be identified by the chestnut spot on its wings, the white feathers that line the outer edge of its tail, and its whitish eye-ring. The upperparts are greyish brown with dark brown streaks. The underparts are white (occasionally buff coloured) with dark streaks. There are no significant differences between males and females. Although similar to adults, juveniles are duller in appearance and their wings lack the chestnut spot.
Distribution and Population
The Vesper Sparrow affinis subspecies occurs west of the Cascades in southwestern British Columbia, in western Washington, in Oregon, and in northwestern California. In Canada, the Vesper Sparrow affinis subspecies has only been reported on southeastern Vancouver Island and in the Lower Fraser Valley. These birds used to nest on Vancouver Island, from the Englishman River estuary in the north to Cobble Meadows and Mill Bay in the south, and locally in the Fraser Lowland. Today, the Vesper Sparrow affinis subspecies is considered an extremely rare summer visitor to the Fraser Lowland. The only known nesting population is located at the Nanaimo Airport, approximately 20 km south of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Due to its proximity to the Washington State population, this affinis population would be an extension of the Washington population. The Vesper Sparrow affinis subspecies winters in California. Although it is not known how many Vesper Sparrows affinis subspecies once nested in Canada, the population is believed to have declined; this is based on the fact that this songbird now has a single breeding site (Nanaimo Airport), where between five and ten pairs make up the total population. The Washington and Oregon populations are also declining.
The Vesper Sparrow nests on the ground in sparsely vegetated grassland habitats with scattered trees and shrubs. Mixed-height vegetation is extremely important to this bird, which needs high perches for singing and shorter vegetation for foraging. Although the Vesper Sparrow appears to prefer grasslands far from urban areas, it is also known to use fence posts, wire fences, and other human-made structures for singing perches. In British Columbia, Nanaimo Airport was in 2006 one of the rare sites in this region with a large enough area of suitable habitat.
The Vesper sparrow nests on the ground. The female builds the nest alone. To help conceal the nest from predators, it is usually located near a tuft of vegetation. In British Columbia, the breeding season generally begins in late April and extends to mid-July, although it may last until early August if a second clutch is laid. The female will generally lay three to six eggs that she incubates alone, for the most part, for 11 to 14 days. Both parents feed the nestlings. The nestlings leave the nest after approximately 10 days. This species appears to be extremely faithful to its breeding site. During breeding season, these birds feed mainly on insects, although they also eat seeds. They primarily forage in low vegetation while walking or hopping. They may also jump or hover to glean insects from taller vegetation. The Vesper Sparrow can adapt to modified habitats. However, there is an increased risk of nest destruction due to frequent mowing and other human disturbance of these areas. In this region, potential predators of eggs, nestlings, and adults include certain birds of prey (Cooper’s Hawk, Merlin, Northwestern Crow, Common Raven, etc.), several mammals (Coyote, Red Fox, Raccoon, skunk, Domestic Dog, etc.), and certain snakes. However, on Vancouver Island, Domestic Cats are, without a doubt, this species’ main predator. Most birds leave for California before mid-October. The Vesper Sparrow generally migrates at night in small flocks.
Habitat loss or degradation is the main threat to populations of the Vesper Sparrow affinis subspecies. Modern farming practices and urbanization are among the factors that lead to the degradation of this bird’s habitat. Suitable habitats on southeastern Vancouver Island and in the Lower Fraser Valley have become extremely rare. Predation, particularly by Domestic Cats which abound in urban areas, also poses a threat. Given the limited number of individuals and the fact that its habitat is restricted to a single site, the Canadian population is particularly vulnerable to extirpation. A single event, such as an infrastructure development project on the grounds of the airport, could eradicate this population.
The Coastal Vesper 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 Vesper Sparrow is protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. This law makes it an offence to disturb, kill, or collect adults, juveniles, and eggs. The affinis subspecies is also protected under the British Columbia Wildlife Act, which prohibits hunting, trapping, poisoning, or any other destruction of wildlife, as well as the disturbance or destruction of eggs and nests.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
Status of Recovery Planning
Recovery Strategies :
Name Amended Recovery Strategy for the Horned Lark strigata subspecies (Eremophila alpestris strigata) and Recovery Strategy for the Vesper Sparrow affinis subspecies (Pooecetes gramineus affinis) in Canada
Status First posting on SAR registry
Name *Amended Recovery Strategy for the Horned Lark strigata subspecies (Eremophila alpestris strigata) and Recovery Strategy for the Vesper Sparrow affinis subspecies (Pooecetes gramineus affinis) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry
Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team
Conan Webb - Chair/Contact - Parks Canada
Phone: 250-478-5153 Send Email
Horned Lark strigata subspecies and Vesper Sparrow affinis subspecies Recovery Team
Megan Harrison - Chair/Contact - Environment Canada
Phone: 604-350-1989 Fax: 604-946-7022 Send Email
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.
17 record(s) found.
- COSEWIC Status Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (2 record(s) found.)
- Recovery Strategies (1 record(s) found.)
- Orders (3 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- Permits and Related Agreements (5 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (2 record(s) found.)
COSEWIC Status Reports
Response Statement - Coastal Vesper Sparrow (2019-01-11)This songbird is a distinct subspecies limited to the Pacific coastal plains of western North America, breeding in sparsely vegetated grasslands with scattered trees or shrubs and patches of bare soil. Its numbers are declining throughout its range, due to loss and degradation of breeding and wintering habitat. Despite targetted surveys, no breeding attempts have been confirmed in Canada since 2014, and the current Canadian population is near zero. Remaining patches of suitable nesting habitat are scarce on southeastern Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and continue to decline in extent and quality.
Recovery Strategy for the Horned Lark strigata subspecies (Eremophila alpestris strigata) and Recovery Strategy for the Vesper Sparrow affinis subspecies (Pooecetes gramineus affinis) in Canada (2016-12-20)The Horned Lark strigata (Eremophila alpestris strigata) was added to Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) as Endangered in 2005. The Vesper Sparrow affinis (Pooecetes gramineus affinis) was added to Schedule 1 of SARA as Endangered in 2007. The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency are the competent ministers for the recovery of Horned Lark strigata subspecies and Vesper Sparrow affinis subspecies and has prepared this strategy, as per section 37 of SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with the Government of British Columbia, Parks Canada Agency, Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, Nanaimo Airport Commission and the State of Washington (Department of Fish and Wildlife).
COSEWIC Annual Reports
COSEWIC Annual Report - 2006 (2006-08-30)2006 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
COSEWIC Annual Report 2017 to 2018 (2018-10-15)Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 90 wildlife species and 11 of these were assigned a status of Not at Risk. Of these 90, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 38 wildlife species; of these, the majority (87%) were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 771 wildlife species in various risk categories including 338 Endangered, 183 Threatened, 228 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 18 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, and a total of 59 wildlife species have also been designated as Data Deficient and 197 have been assessed and assigned Not at Risk status.