Harris's Sparrow Zonotrichia querula


Justification of Red List Category
Long-term data appears to show that this species has been undergoing a moderately rapid decline, which approaches the threshold for Vulnerable. Therefore, it is listed here as Near Threatened.

Population justification
Partners in Flight (2019) estimate the population size to be 2,000,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Partners in Flight (2019) estimate an annual population reduction of -1.9%, which equates to a ~17.6% reduction across the stipulated ten year period. The Christmas Bird Count further suggests an annual decline of 1.95%, or a ~17.9% decline over ten years (Meehan et al. 2018). Rosenberg et al. (2016) also suggest a ~2.2% annual rate of decline between 1970 and 2014, equable to a ~20.2% decline across a ten year period. Some estimates have however, placed the rate of decline in Canadian populations considerably higher (Meehan et al. 2018) and as such, the rate of decline here is placed in the band 20-29%.

Distribution and population

Zonotrichia querula breeds in northern Canada from north-west Ontario across through northern Manitoba, north-east Saskatchewan, and into Nunavut and Northwest Territories (and possibly Yukon) (Norment et al. 2016, Rising 2018). The species has declined dramatically in the Churchill area, but does still in general persist at high abundances along the tree-tundra transition zone (Mooi 2018, C. Artuso in litt. 2018). It primarily overwinters in central and southern U.S.A. in the Great Plains region, from Nebraska south to southern Texas, though individuals do occur in western and eastern U.S.A., southern Canada and south-eastern Alaska (Norment et al. 2016).


This species breeds in the forest-tundra zone of northern Canada, where the dominant vegetation is shrubland, spruce (Picea spp.), larch (Larix laricina), wet sedge meadows and lichen (see Norment et al. 2016). The species breeds following snow-melt, with peak clutch initiation commencing from mid-June (Norment et al. 2016, Rising 2018). In the non-breeding season the species occurs in a wide variety of shrubby habitats, but will utilise agricultural land and even suburban gardens (Norment et al. 2016, Rising 2018). The species is omnivorous, eating a wide variety during the breeding season including conifer needles, arthropods and fruit, but mainly feeding on seeds and fruit in the non-breeding season (Norment et al. 2016).


Rosenberg et al. (2016) judge the key threats to the species to be loss of habitat due to urbanisation and agricultural conversion, but post-fire deforestation may be an additional threat (see Norment et al. 2016), and given its breeding habitat requirements climate change could have a big impact on the species and its habitat (see Norment et al. 2016, Mooi 2018).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
No direct actions are known, and the only protected breeding habitat is at Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary, Northwest Territories (Norment et al. 2016). It is listed on the Yellow watchlist by Partners in Flight (Rosenberg et al. 2016), as a Bird of Conservation Concern by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS 2008), as of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC 2017), and is covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (see Norment et al. 2016).

Conservation Actions Proposed
As the species occurs in an area poorly covered by the Breeding Bird Survey, it is important to try to get more accurate monitoring of the breeding population, and to ascertain whether non-breeding trends that have been reported are typical of the whole population (see Norment et al. 2016). Research also needs to be conducted to more accurately assess the threats to the species, and to get better baseline data on the species's ecology, such as foraging behaviour, habitat selection, and if the species may have any behavioural flexibility to utilise other habitats if key habitats are lost (Norment et al. 2016).


Text account compilers
Everest, J.

Artuso, C., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Meehan, T. & Westrip, J.R.S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Zonotrichia querula. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/10/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/10/2021.