is the only songbird whose breeding range is exclusively
within Canada. A distinctive ground-nesting songbird that
breeds in the far northern reaches of Canada,
Harriss Sparrow is the largest sparrow in North
America, except for towhees. Although Harriss
Sparrows are relatively numerous and easy to spot within
their range, essential aspects of their breeding behavior
remained undocumented until the early 1990s.
Harriss Sparrows are most commonly observed on
their wintering grounds in the plains of the
south-central United States.
Harriss Sparrows breed in the mixed forest-tundra
zones of north-central Canada, from the extreme
northwestern reaches of the Northwest Territories to
northern Ontario, along the shores of Hudson Bay. Typical
breeding habitat includes stands of spruce and larch
trees, shrubby understory including dwarf birch and
willow, and wet meadows. Harriss Sparrows winter in
the central United States, from South Dakota to south
Sparrow Range Map
Because their breeding grounds are remote and their nests
well concealed, Harriss Sparrows were among the
last North American songbirds to have its nest and eggs
described in published research. Their nests are scrapes
in the ground, lined with grasses or, occasionally,
caribou hair. Nests are usually concealed under a shrub,
atop or beside a hummock. Most clutches consist of four
eggs; average clutch sizes are higher in the northern
part of the species breeding range.
Harriss Sparrows feed primarily on the ground,
taking a great variety of plant and animal matter,
including grass seeds, berries, spruce needles and buds,
and many species of insects and spiders. At least in
portions of the breeding range of the species,
Harriss Sparrows eat proportionally more insects
after nestlings hatch.
On their wintering grounds, flocks of Harriss
Sparrows show social hierarchies, in which dominant birds
control access to preferred roosts and feeding sites.
Status of male birds in hierarchies is correlated with
body size. For immature birds in their first winter,
status is linked to the extent of black plumage on the
throat and upper chest. Only rarely do fights occur
between members of flocks; instead, subordinate birds
generally move quietly away when birds of higher rank
Description: A large, long-tailed
sparrow. Length is approximately 7.5 to 8 inches. In
structure, the species resembles other members of the
genus Zonotrichia (including White-throated and
White-crowned sparrows, which often associate with
Harriss), with long tail and rather stout head and
Breeding adult Harriss Sparrows have distinctive
plumage, with black crowns, faces, and throats. A thin
black line extends behind the eye, widening as it curls
behind the gray cheek patch. Supercilium and sides of
neck are also ash-gray. Rump is also solid gray,
contrasting with boldly streaked wings and back. Belly is
white. Bill is entirely pink.
Adults lose some of their
gray coloration in winter, acquiring more brownish color
on the face; throat sometimes shows white in winter.
Immature birds in their first winters resemble dull
winter adults, but show even more extensive brown on
their faces and crowns (very little black at all), and
more purely white on their throats.
It's song is a series of one to three high, clear
whistles on a single pitch. One common call note is a
loud chip; alarm note is somewhat harsher.
Visit Shaw Creek
Bird Supply to see our selection of Harris's
Sparrow Feeders & Heated Bird
Copyright © 2003 Shaw Creek