Saturday, 16 February 2013

Harris's Sparrow!

Question: What is the only species of bird whose entire breeding range is limited to Canada (endemic to Canada)?

Answer: Harris's Sparrow!

This morning Rohan van Twest had a great find with an adult Harris's Sparrow just east of Cambridge. I was doing some birding in North Dumfries (southwest of Cambridge) at the time, so I raced up to the site where it had been seen. After about an hour of waiting, the 3 other birders and I were able to see it appear magically under the bird feeder. I was even able to document it with extremely poor photos!

Harris's Sparrow - Cambridge, Ontario

Harris's Sparrows breed along the northern edge of the boreal forest across Canada and migrate through the interior of the continent. They are actually regular migrants in the far west of Ontario but aren't located in the south too often, with perhaps 5 every year in southern Ontario. This is the second record for Wellington County. The last Harris's Sparrow in the Hamilton Study Area was a one day wonder in spring, 2000 that was reported after the fact. Prior to that, the next previous record was in the mid 80s. Great find, Rohan!

Harris's Sparrow - Cambridge, Ontario

Spurred on by that success I decided to head down to Brantford and see the Gray Partridge that had been reported. Being unemployed, I have done a ton of birding this year and as a result my winter list was getting quite high. I don't really know what record is for one winter, but I think it was set last winter, perhaps being around 170.

At Brantford I was able to spot a covey of 9 Gray Partridges huddling together in a field, and later on spotted a single Savannah Sparrow and Field Sparrow mixed in with the tree sparrows and juncos. This brought my winter list up to 162. Maybe I'll be able to hit 170 if I try hard enough in the last 12 days of the month. I still need some that are around like King Eider, Common Grackle, any rare gull, Eastern Phoebe, Western Grebe, Black-crowned Night-heron etc.

 Tomorrow I will be birding the Niagara River with a friend. Hopefully we will be able to turn up something good!


  1. Can not complain with those ID photos. Mine were not as good. Regardless, it was great bird!

  2. My mother-in-law once got a Harris Sparrow in her yard in North Bay. That was unfortunately before I got into birding. At my feeder our best bird was a Boreal Chickadee. Ironically, another of our best birds was believe it or not a House Sparrow. While House Sparrows are abundant in the south in the North Bay area they died off mostly and occurs only in a few barns in the Nipissing District. (Also cool was a Fox Sparrow and Rose-breasted Grosbeak).

  3. I have a Harris' sparrow nesting in an old bird house just north of Dundas (north of Hamilton about 5 km west of Hiway 6 and 15 km south of hiway 5) above the escarpment. The bird house hangs about 15' above the ground against a very large old maple tree. I have two feeders about 20' away: one with finch seed and one with sunflower seed.

    1. Hi Jean,

      Perhaps the birds you have nesting here are house sparrows? They are around the same size as Harris's Sparrows and males have a similar looking black face/throat. Harris's Sparrows actually breed in Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and northern Manitoba/Saskatchewan in open spruce woods near Tundra.