WatchList Species Account for Henslow’s Sparrow
(Ammodramus henslowii)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species


Henslow's Sparrow by Laura Erickson

Photo: George Jett

With its drab appearance and thin, insect-like song, the Henslow’s Sparrow is an inconspicuous breeding bird of the tallgrass prairies and other grasslands of the eastern U.S. and wintering bird of the pine savannas of the Southeast. Through the years its range has decreased; once found in New England, it is now extirpated there. Due to the loss, draining and degradation of its breeding habitats and the conversion to intensively managed forage crops, the bird’s population has declined an estimated 7.5% every year over the last three decades, the steepest decline of any bird of the North American grasslands.


Habitat destruction on the wintering grounds also contributes to its decline. The Conservation Reserve Program has created undisturbed grassland habitat, and this has led to local increases. In addition, reclaimed strip mines in the coal country from Pennsylvania to Illinois has proved suitable for breeding Henslow’s Sparrows, and some of the grasslands on former minelands support as many as 2,000 birds. Managed grasslands on military reservations such as Fort Riley, Kansas and Fort Campbell, Kentucky also support significant populations. To sustain it, its grassland habitats should be burned or mowed before the vegetation becomes too dense to support the bird. Tallgrass restoration now in progress in the Midwest creates suitable habitat for this and other grassland birds.