Species At Risk

Henslow’s Sparrow

(Ammodramus henslowii)


Henslow’s Sparrow
Henslow’s Sparrow occurrences map


The Henslow’s Sparrow can be distinguished from other sparrows by its combination of chestnut brown wings, intricately patterned olive-green head and back of neck, black and brown streaked back, and by its flat-headed, short-tailed profile. This small, secretive bird is hard to spot, and is most often located by its odd song – a dry, thin, metallic sound usually mistaken for an insect.


The Henslow’s Sparrow breeds in the northeastern and east-central United States, and reaches its northeastern limit in Ontario. It was once fairly common in scattered areas of suitable habitat south of the Canadian Shield. However, steep declines since the 1960s have all but wiped this bird out as a breeding species in Ontario. A few are still seen each spring at migration hotspots such as Point Pelee National Park, and a few may breed at selected locations.


In Ontario, the Henslow’s Sparrow lives in open fields with tall grasses, flowering plants, and a few scattered shrubs. It has also been found in abandoned farm fields, pastures, and wet meadows. It tends to avoid fields that have been grazed or are crowded with trees and shrubs. It prefers extensive, dense, tall grasslands where it can more easily conceal its small ground nest.


The main threat to the Henslow’s Sparrow is loss of open field prairie habitat. Many of the sites where this bird once lived have been converted to pasture, crop lands, or tree plantations. Housing development has also removed suitable habitat.


The Henslow’s Sparrow is protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. This species also receives protection under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.

What You Can Do to Help the Henslow’s Sparrow

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Henslow’s Sparrow. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit: www.bsc-eoc.org.
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find Henslow’s Sparrow on your property, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Henslow’s Sparrow and many other species at risk depend on healthy grassland prairies which is rare in Ontario. Learn more about these important habitats, the species that depend on them, and what you can do to help at www.tallgrassontario.org.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • The Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program is available to eligible farmers to encourage greater protection and conservation of habitat for species at risk. Find more information at www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/environment/efp/efp.htm.

Did you know?

The Henslow’s Sparrow is a short-distance migrant, travelling only as far as the southern United States, primarily from Texas to Georgia.

Did you know?

Henslow’s Sparrows are very shy and are almost never seen when they’re not singing. If you hear one, look for it sitting on top of a mullein flower stalk or other elevated twig or perch. When it sings, it sharply throws its head skyward and then utters its quiet song. In early summer, it frequently sings throughout the night.

Did you know?

Henslow’s Sparrows often build their nests in tallgrass prairies, which are one of the most endangered habitats in Ontario. This extremely rare habitat supports an amazing diversity of wildlife, including many species at risk.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.