South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Harris's Sparrow

Zonotrichia querula

Length: 6.75 - 7.75 inches Wingspan: 10.5 - 11.5 inches Seasonality: Migrant / Winter
ID Keys: Distinctive, with black crown, face, and bib, pinkish bill, large size for a sparrow

Harris's Sparrow - Zonotrichia querulaHarris's Sparrows are a very large, beautifully plumaged sparrow species found only in the interior of North America.  They were one of the last North American birds to have their nesting location discovered, when nesting Harris's Sparrows were finally seen in the stunted scrubby spruces near the treeline in northern Canada in 1931.  They have adapted well to a human presence in North America, and can often be seen on the ground in urban areas, utilizing bird feeders as well as landscaped habitats.

Habitat: Open woods, brush, shelterbelts, residential areas.  In their breeding range in Canda, they are most often found in boreal forest near the treeline, where evergreen trees are stunted.

Diet: Mostly seeds, insects, berries.  Varies with season, may include more seeds and berries in winter, insects in the summer.

Behavior: Primarily forages along the ground, often scratching through leaf litter in search of food. Will also forage through low vegetation.

Nesting: Non-Breeder in South Dakota.  In their Canadian breeding habitat, the nest is a cup built of twigs, mosses, and lichens, usually placed on the ground under vegetative cover.  The female usually lays between 3 and 5 eggs, and she alone incubates them.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young.  The young leave the nest after about 10 days.

Song: Repeated clear tremulous whistles in 1 pitch, followed at an interval by several clear notes in another pitch.  Calls sound like a loud metallic spink and a drawn-out tseep.

Migration: Winters in central to southern Great Plains, summers in remote north-central Canada.

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Harris's Sparrow sightings

Similar Species: Generally distinctive, not easily confused with other sparrow species.

Bird Feeders: Grains, mixed birdseed, suet, breadcrumbs

Conservation Status: Numbers appear to be stable, and they are quite common in many parts of their natural range.  The IUCN lists the Harris's Sparrow as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Harris's Sparrow

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Harris's Sparrow"

3) Harris's Sparrow

Photo Information: October 8th, 2008 - Minnehaha County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Harris's Sparrow photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Harris's Sparrow - North American Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant in the eastern part of the state, uncommon in the west.  Rare in winter, primarily in the southern part of the state.