Zonotrichia querula

Status: Common spring migrant east and south, uncommon north, rare west. Rare casual summer visitor south and east. Common regular fall migrant east, fairly common central, uncommon west. Common regular winter visitor south and east, rare west.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM7459, 25 Apr 1889 Lincoln, Lancaster Co.

Taxonomy:  No subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997).

Changes since 2000:  Harris’s Sparrows have declined in Nebraska and the Great Plains since the latter part of the 20th Century (COSEWIC 2017) and Harris’s Sparrow is considered a species of special concern in Canada, where it breeds (COSEWIC 2017).  An analysis of all Nebraska CBC data shows Harris’s Sparrow numbers declined annually by 7.0% during the years 1980-2014(COSEWIC 2017).  An analysis of three long-running Nebraska CBCs also shows a trend of general decline during the late 20th Century, but also show the declines have stabilized (Figure 1).

Figure 1.  The number of Harris’s Sparrow recorded per party hour on three long-running CBCs in Nebraska. Points represent reported values and trend line created using locally weighted scatterplot (LOESS) smoothing in R Studio (2015).  Data collected by volunteers and provided by National Audubon Society and the Nebraska Ornithologists Union.  The Lincoln and Norfolk CBCs experienced sharp declines during the 1970s and 1980s, but numbers have leveled off since the mid-1990s.  Results from the Omaha CBC shows a smaller decline in the 1970s and 1980s and a small increase since the 1990s.

Spring:  Mar 8, 9, 9 (away from east and south) <<<>>> May 20, 21, 21 (statewide)

Earlier dates away from the wintering range are 1 Mar 2007 Lincoln Co, 4 Mar 2013 Custer Co, and 6 Mar 2019 Rock Co. For Jan-Feb dates see Winter.

Later dates are 26 May 2006 Sheridan Co, 28 May 2009 Dodge Co, 30 May 2019 Dixon Co, and 9 Jun 2009 Red Willow Co.

There is a gradual movement northward of wintering birds beginning in early to mid-Mar and increasing gradually through Apr; peak counts in the state are in the first half of May. Migrants pass through Lincoln Co 7-23 May (Tout 1947), although numbers are low that far west.

Migrants generally depart in May but see Summer.

  • High counts:  369 in Pierce Co 8 May 1999, 235 in Lancaster Co 10 May 1996, and 235 in Sarpy Co 11 May 1996.

Summer:  There are summer (10 Jun-9 Sep) records from Kansas (Thompson et al 2011) and Iowa (Kent and Dinsmore 1996), and a few from Nebraska, presumably of individuals unable to migrate. These are 15 Jun 1975 Clay Co, 23 Jun 2004 Dixon Co, 29 Jun 1970 Adams Co, 9 Jul 1976 Lancaster Co, and 20 Jul 1919 a specimen, UNSM ZM7476 Lancaster Co (Mickel and Dawson 1920).

Fall:  Sep 20, 21, 22 (statewide) <<<>>> Nov 14, 14, 14 (away from south and east)

Earlier dates are 10 Sep (Ludlow 1935), and 10 Sep 1994 Thomas Co.

Later dates away from the south and east are 22 Nov 2018 Rock Co, 25 Nov 2011 Custer Co, 25 Nov 2011 Antelope Co, and 28 Nov 2019 Scotts Bluff Co (see Winter).

Migrants normally arrive in late Sep, and peak numbers occur in late Oct; most birds have passed through by late Nov; wintering is common in the south and east. Tout (1947) gave dates of migration in Lincoln Co 8 Oct-2 Nov.

Harris’s Sparrow is less numerous in spring as a migrant away from wintering areas, and is rare at that time in the northwest (Rosche 1982). Lingle and Hay (1982) indicated that it was uncommon as a spring migrant but common in fall at Mormon Island Crane Meadows in Hall Co.

  • High counts:  1000 in Dakota Co 20 Oct 2000, 275 in Wayne Co 24 Oct 2010, 250 at Harlan Co Reservoir, Harlan Co 11 Nov 1995, 250 in Otoe Co 21 Oct 2005, and “hundreds” in Dakota Co 23 Oct

WinterFall migrants have moved southeast by late Nov from the north and west, but good numbers remain in the south and east in Dec, as indicated by CBC data. Wintering is regular in the east and from Platte River Valley counties southward, rarely to Scotts Bluff Co in the Panhandle; Rosche and Johnsgard (1984) listed Harris’s Sparrow as a winter visitor in Keith Co. Wintering may occur in Custer Co based on a few mid-winter reports there.

North and west of this wintering range, winter records are rare, especially in the northwest, where Rosche (1982) noted that there are “unusually few observations after late January.”  A few wintered at the James Ranch feeders, Sioux Co 1999-2000, and a Mitchell, Scotts Bluff Co yard hosted 1-2 in 2012-2013, and singles 15 Jan 2015, 25 Feb 2017, and 30 Dec 2018-22 Apr 2019. Additional far northwestern records are, for Scotts Bluff Co, 2 Jan 2006, 22 Jan 2021, and 7 Feb 2014, and a single was in Sioux Co 6 Jan 2001.

Additional reports away from the south and east are 8-14 Dec 2009 Custer Co, 11 Dec 2018 northeast Cherry Co, 20 Dec 1997 Rock Co, 20 Dec 2018 Loup Co, 20 on 23 Dec 2011 Antelope Co, 31 Dec 2013 Howard Co, and in Custer Co 1-31 Jan 2014, 2-3 Jan 2010, and 10-23 Jan 2013.

Harris’s Sparrow in Papillion, Sarpy Co 5 May 2014. Photo by Phil Swanson.


CBC: Christmas Bird Count
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum

Literature Cited

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada [COSEWIC].  2017. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Harris’s Sparrow Zonotrichia querula in Canada.  Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, Ottawa, Canada.

Kent, T.H., and J.J. Dinsmore. 1996. Birds in Iowa. Published by the authors, Iowa City and Ames, Iowa, USA.

Lingle, G.R., and M.A. Hay. 1982. A checklist of the birds of Mormon Island Crane Meadows. NBR 50: 27-36.

Ludlow, C.S. 1935. A quarter-century of bird migration records at Red Cloud, Nebraska. NBR 3: 3-25.

Mickel, C.E., and R.W. Dawson. 1920. Some interesting records of Nebraska birds for the year 1919.  Wilson Bulletin 32: 73-79.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska.  Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

R Studio, Inc. 2015. RStudio: integrated development for R. RStudio, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts. http://www.rstudio.com/, accessed 1 December 2016.

Thompson, M.C., C.A. Ely, B. Gress, C. Otte, S.T. Patti, D. Seibel, and E.A. Young. 2011. Birds of Kansas.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

Tout, W. 1947. Lincoln County birds. Published by the author, North Platte, Nebraska, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 11 Jun 2021