Centronyx henslowii

Status:  Uncommon regular spring and fall migrant southeast, rare northeast and central. Locally uncommon regular breeder south and east.

Documentation:  Specimen: USNM 8968, Loup Fork of Platte 10 Jun 1857 (Hyde 1939).

Taxonomy:  This species and Baird’s Sparrow were moved to a new genus, Centronyx, from Ammodramus, based on genetic studies that indicated former Ammodramus was paraphyletic (Chesser et al 2018).

Two subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997): henslowii, breeding from eastern South Dakota to Ontario and south to east Texas and western West Virginia, wintering from Texas to South Carolina and Florida, and susurrans, breeding from New York to New Hampshire and south to eastern West Virginia and North Carolina, wintering in coastal South Carolina to Florida. Nebraska birds are presumed henslowii.

Bruner et al (1904), regarding a specimen collected in Lancaster Co 22 Apr 1899 (UNSM ZM 7332), related that it was identified as occidentalis by Oberholser; this taxon has been merged with henslowii.

Spring:  Apr 23, 25, 26 <<<>>> summer

Earlier dates are 18 Apr 2017 Lancaster Co.

Migration occurs generally in May.

The westernmost report is 22 Apr 1955 Keith Co (Benckeser 1956).

In addition to the specimen cited above, there are additional specimens UNSM ZM7333 and ZM7334 taken at Lincoln 26 Apr 1919 and 18 May 1920 respectively. Hyde (1939) mentions that Audubon saw Henslow’s Sparrows near the present site of Omaha, Douglas Co and in Dixon Co 9 and 17 May 1843. There is a report without details of at least one at Valentine NWR, Cherry Co for about a week up to 19 Apr 1990.

Summer: The status of this species in Nebraska was summarized by Silcock and Jorgensen (2007); breeding distribution was depicted as extending west to Hall Co and north to Stanton Co. Surveys of potential habitat in southeast Nebraska were carried out in 2006 and 2007 (Silcock 2007); birds were found at only five sites of 49 judged suitable for Henslow’s Sparrow. The exacting habitat requirements of this species (Silcock and Jorgensen 2007) result in aggregations of birds in quality habitat; a total of 45 singing males were found at five sites in southeast Nebraska in 2006, and about 80 in 2007, including 31 in one 160-acre prairie near Burchard, Pawnee Co 19 Aug; an adult was carrying food at the latter site.  These surveys found evidence that individuals are more widespread in May-Jun than in Aug; the concentrations in favored prairie areas like the Burchard area in Aug suggest that unsuccessful breeders from elsewhere congregate in those areas later in the summer, which allows a later opportunity to breed (Silcock 2007). This phenomenon has been noted also by Zimmerman (1993) and Reinking et al (2000) and might be aided by vocal conspecific attraction, as described in Baird’s Sparrow (Ahlering and Faaborg 2006; Ahlering 2005; Herkert et al 2020).

Henslow’s Sparrow does, however, use Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grassland and restored prairie (Negus 2005; Jerry Toll pers. comm.), although these areas require maintenance that mimics natural progression of native prairie as affected by fire and grazing. Henslow’s Sparrow usually nests in prairie that has been ungrazed, unburned, or unmowed for 2-4 years; on managed prairies a rotational grazing system can produce suitable habitat.

Sites where this species is consistently found include Burchard Lake WMA and adjacent private restored prairie in Pawnee Co, Pawnee Prairie WMA in Pawnee Co, Spring Creek Prairie in Lancaster Co, Boyer Chute NWR in Washington Co, and Whooping Crane Trust and Nature Conservancy properties in Hall Co. There are a number of additional sites where this species has been found, most on smaller prairies owned by conservation groups, such as Allwine and Nine Mile Prairies in Lancaster Co (Baumgarten 1953), but sometimes in isolated privately-owned CRP fields that are planted to native grasses and forbs or fragments of original native grassland. At most of these smaller sites occurrence is sporadic from year to year depending on habitat condition.

There have been reports from Burchard Lake WMA since 1963; since then, depending on the status of native prairie there, as affected mostly by grazing, burning, or haying, as many as 10-13 singing birds have been found. Since 1994 (Silcock 1994) good numbers have been found at Spring Creek Prairie near Denton, Lancaster Co; best count there is the 12 found on a survey 23 Jun 2016.

A new location in 2020 was Tim Knott Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Saunders Co, where up to for were found 16 Jun-3 Jul; a single was found a little further north on Road 8 near LeShara, Saunders Co  17 Jun.

Northernmost breeding noted is in Stanton Co, where four nests were found in CRP grassland in 2005 (Negus 2005); the nests had eggs 22 and 28 Jun and 3 Aug, and at least one of the nests fledged young (Mollhoff 2006). Two in CRP grassland in Thurston Co 5 Aug 2015 were a little north of Stanton Co. Two were singing in Merrick Co 9 Jun 2008. A single singing bird recorded at 517 Avenue and 892 Road in Knox Co 29 Jul-9 Aug (eBird.org) is the furthest north for the species in Nebraska.

Multiple birds have occupied managed prairie at the Whooping Crane Trust, Hall Co and have been studied in 1995-1996  by Chris Helzer (pers. comm.) and more recently by Dan Kim (Kim 2005). Possibly the first report from this location was 10 Jun 1992 when one was seen and heard. In 1995-1996 there were 1-2 singing males at both Mormon Island Crane Meadows and Caveney Pasture in Hall Co (Chris Helzer pers. comm.), although no nests were reported. In 2004, nests were first discovered there (Kim 2005), and in 2005 several more nests were found; eggs were seen 9 Jul and nestlings 17-28 Jul (Mollhoff 2005). In 2007 at the Whooping Crane Trust area a nest with one egg was found 20 May 2007; another nest with four eggs was there 7 Jun (Mollhoff 2008), and at least one bird was there 1 Jul 2014.

Additional westerly reports are of one singing at Harvard Marsh WMA, Clay Co 25 Jul 1999; another or the same was there 17 Jul 2000 (Jorgensen 2012), one 18 Jun 2005, 6-8 singing 22-23 Jun 2007, and singles were at Lange WPA, Clay Co 11 Jun 2005. These are the only eastern Rainwater Basin records.

  • Breeding phenology:
    Eggs: 20 May-3 Aug
    Nestlings: 17-28 Jul (an adult  was carrying food 19 Aug)
  • High Counts: 31 near Burchard, Pawnee Co 19 Aug 2007, 16 at Spring Creek Prairie 12 Jun 2018, and 15 there 20 Jun 2017.

Fall:  summer <<<>>> Oct 15, 15, 16

There are about 35 reports, most without documentation. The only accepted record on eBird is 12 Oct 2014 Saunders Co. Above dates are consensus last dates, but are undocumented.

Westernmost reports are in Adams and Hall Cos 25 Aug-15 Oct. There is a later undocumented but likely correct report from Lincoln 30 Oct 2004.  A specimen, USNM 88732, was taken in Sarpy Co 9 Oct 1882 (Hyde 1939).

Migration occurs in Sep through mid-Oct.


NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)


Photograph (top) of a Henslow’s Sparrow at Spring Creek Prairie, Lancaster Co 16 May 2008 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Ahlering, M.A. 2005. Settlement Cues and Resource Use by Grasshopper Sparrows and Baird’s Sparrows in the Upper Great Plains. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA.

Ahlering, M.A., and J. Faaborg. 2006. Avian habitat management meets conspecific attraction: If you build it, will they come? Auk: 123: 301-312.

Baumgarten, H.E. 1953. Henslow’s Sparrow at Lincoln. NBR 21: 25.

Benckeser, H.R. 1956. Notes from Keith County. NBR 24: 26.

Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Chesser, R.T., K.J. Burns, C. Cicero, J.L. Dunn, A.W. Kratter, I.J. Lovette, P.C. Rasmussen, J. V. Remsen, Jr., D.F. Stotz, B.M. Winger, and K. Winker. 2018. Fifty-ninth Supplement to the American Ornithological Society’s Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 135: 798-813.

Herkert, J.R., P.D. Vickery, and D.E. Kroodsma. 2020. Henslow’s Sparrow (Centronyx henslowii), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.henspa.01.

Jorgensen, J.G. 2012.  Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Kim, D.H. 2005. First Nebraska nest record for Henslow’s Sparrow. The Prairie Naturalist 37: 171-173.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2005. The 2005 Nebraska nest report. NBR 73: 119-123.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2006. The 2006 Nebraska nest report. NBR 74: 142-147.

Negus, L.P. 2005. Grassland bird response to disking/interseeding of legumes in Conservation Reserve Program lands in northeast Nebraska. M.Sc. thesis, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA.

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

Reinking, D.L., D.A. Weidenfeld, D.H. Wolfe, and R.W. Rohrbaugh, Jr. 2000. Distribution, habitat use, and nesting success of Henslow’s Sparrows in Oklahoma. Prairie Naturalist 32: 219-232.

Silcock, W.R. 1994. Summer Field report, June-July 1994. NBR 62: 102-116.

Silcock, W.R. 2007. A Preliminary Survey of Southeast Nebraska Grassland Habitat and Potential Henslow’s Sparrow Habitat. NBR 75: 53-61.

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2007. Henslow’s Sparrow Status in Nebraska. NBR 75: 13-16.

Zimmerman, J.L. 1993. The Birds of Konza.  University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

Recommended Citation

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

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 4 Mar 2021