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The Harris’s Sparrow is North America’s largest sparrow. It has a chunky body with a barrel-shaped chest that makes its head look a bit small. Males and females have a similar appearance with streaky brown and black plumage, grey or brown cheeks, a white belly, and a pink bill. Breeding adults have a distinctive black bib, face and crown. The Harris's Sparrow's song is a simple whistle of 1 to 3 evenly spaced notes of the same pitch.

Weight: 26.2 to 48.8 g (0.9 to 1.7 oz).  Length: 17 to 20 cm (6.7 to 7.9 in).

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Harris’s Sparrows breed near the treeline in northern Canada. Their wintering grounds are in the Great Plains of the south-central United States.

Harris’s Sparrow is the only songbird that breeds exclusively in Canada. About half of its breeding range is in the NWT.

Range map information

Harris's Sparrows arrive on their breeding territories in the NWT in late May to early June. They breed in semi-forested tundra (open tundra mixed with patches of trees and shrubs). Breeding territories typically include coniferous trees. The female Harris's Sparrow builds a nest on the ground in which she lays three to five eggs. Nests are hidden in dense shrubby vegetation dominated by dwarf birch, alder and willow. The male helps to feed the young.

Crowberries, blueberries and bearberries are important foods for Harris’s Sparrows in the spring when they first return to the tundra. They include more insects and seeds in their diet as the season progresses. 

In late summer Harris's Sparrows form loose flocks before migrating to their wintering grounds.

Harris’s Sparrow has undergone a significant long-term population decline. Christmas Bird Counts on the wintering grounds have shown a decline of 59% between 1980 and 2014, including a 16% decline from 2004 to 2014. Conversion of lands for agriculture on the wintering grounds, as well as pesticide use, are thought to be factors in the decline. 

Potential threats in the Northwest Territories include breeding habitat degradation from climate change and habitat loss and degradation from resource exploration and development. Human activities resulting in declining food sources and increased numbers of predators are also potential threats.

COSEWIC assessed Harris's Sparrow as Special Concern in 2017 because of population decline and threats. Harris's Sparrow was listed as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2023.

Harris's Sparrows and their nests are protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.

Dehcho Gwich'in Inuvialuit North Slave / Tłı̨chǫ Sahtú South Slave