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Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii)
Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) a bird listed as Threatened in Wisconsin, prefers old fields, open grasslands, wet meadows, unmowed highway right-of-ways, undisturbed pastures, timothy hay fields, and fallow land grown up to tall weeds. The recommended avoidance period is from May 20 - August 15.
Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin
The table below provides information about the protected status - both state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.
|Federal Status in Wisconsin||none|
|Tracked by NHI||Y|
Note: a species guidance document is not available at this time. Information below was compiled from publication ER-091.
Identification: This small, short-tailed bird is about 5" in length. The head is flat, olive-colored and striped, the wings are reddish, and the bill is large and pale. Best identified by its song, a short, quiet "se-lick" accented on the second syllable.
Habitat: Undisturbed pastures and meadows, timothy hayfields, and uncultivated fields, generally preferring mesic or wet habitats with relatively tall and dense, but also somewhat sparse and patchy vegetation.
State Distribution: Uncommon migrant south and central; rare migrant north. Uncommon summer resident south and central; rare summer resident north. Normal summer range covers about four-fifths of the state, with rare occurrences in northern counties. Not a common resident anywhere in state. A map outlining Pre-1977 and 1997 to Present Distribution is available.
Diet: Primary food is insects; also eats spiders, and seeds of grasses and weeds. Young are fed only insects.
Clutch: 3-5 cream white eggs; laid from late April through late July.
Incubation: 11 days. Fledging period: 9-10 days.
Nest: Deep cup of grasses, built at the base of a thick clump of grass; 2-3 inches off the ground. Nest in loose colonies or singly.
Management Guidelines: The U.S. population of this uncommon and locally distributed species has declined more than 68% from 1966-1991. The Wisconsin population has also declined over that period, and it has dropped an average of 5% per year from 1982-1991. This species is a habitat specialist that has suffered from the loss of uncultivated fields with tall and dense vegetation. Henslow's sparrow ranked highest in the Wisconsin Grassland Bird Study's ranking of birds of management and conservation concern in the state. The control of woody vegetation is critical on public or idle lands, but this species will tolerate some woody vegetation. Also, because this species requires dense litter layers, it will benefit directly from management that promotes short burning rotations.
Links to additional Henslow's Sparrow information
- All About Birds Species Account (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
- Grassland and Savanna Protocols
- Wisconsin All-Bird Conservation Plan
- Michigan Natural Features Inventory
Other links related to birds
Wildlife Action Plan
Note: the information presented here comes from the 2005 Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan. The 2015 revision has been submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval. Our website content will be updated when the plan has been approved.
Native community (habitat) associations
The table below lists the natural communities that are associated with Henslow's Sparrow. Only natural communities for which Henslow's Sparrow is "significantly" (score=3) or "moderately" (score=2) associated are shown. Please see the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.
|Surrogate Grasslands (CRP, pasture, Hay)||3|
Ecological landscape associations
The table below lists the ecological landscape association scores for Henslow's Sparrow. The scores correspond to the map (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None). For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.
Landscape-Community combinations of highest ecological priority*
Ecological priorities are the combinations of natural communities and ecological landscapes that provide Wisconsin's best opportunities to conserve important habitats for a given Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The 10 highest scoring combinations are considered ecological priorities and are listed below. More than 10 combinations are listed if multiple combinations tied for 10th place. For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.
* Ecological priority score is a relative measure that is not meant for comparison between species. This score does not consider socio-economical factors that may dictate protection and/or management priorities differently than those determined solely by ecological analysis. Further, a low ecological priority score does not imply that management or preservation should not occur on a site if there are important reasons for doing so locally.
- Continue agricultural set-aside programs, especially those that allow for permanent protection of preferred habitats.
- Create incentives for delaying hay harvest until after the primary breeding season.
- Do not graze grassland habitats used by Henslow's Sparrows.
- Maintain idle grasslands on the landscape. Do not burn or mow habitat often.
- Partnerships are key for conserving this species in working agricultural landscapes.
- Work with planning and zoning authorities to protect valuable open grassland landscapes from being converted to urban or suburban development.
Threats and issues
- Succession of grassland habitats to shrubland and woodland, due to lack of fire or other management to supress woody growth, is a threat.
- Any changes in climate that lead to loss or degredation of preferred habitat.
- Intensification of agriculture, including early and frequent harvest of hay and conversion of idle grassland to row crops or tree plantations.
- Loss of grassland habitat due to development.
- Disturbance of grassland nesting cover during the breeding season.
- Henslow's Sparrows require relatively tall, grass-dominated dense vegetation with a significant litter layer and standing dead vegetation. Burning or haying entire fields should not occur more often than once in 3 years. Species prefers grass-dominated habitat, so any management that promotes dominance by forbs will pose a threat.
- This species does not tolerate grazing well.
- Invasive woody plants can degrade quality of nesting grasslands, if woody canopy cover exceeds 30%.
- Aggressive invasive species, including yellow parsnip, crown vetch, leafy spurge, thistles, reed canary grass, and some goldenrods can degrade habitat quality of grasslands for this species.
- Agricultural pesticides may pose a threat in certain cases on winter, migration, and breeding grounds.