Henslow's sparrow
Ammodramus henslowii
ITIS Species Code:   179340         NatureServ Element Code:   ABPBXA0030
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Southern Blue Ridge:  n/a Southern Piedmont:  25 South Atl. Coastal Plain:  26
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

9.7 %
13.7 %
41.5 %
8.5 %
3.7 %
5.4 %
4.0 %
0.0 %
1.2 %
5.8 %
5.8 %
6.4 %
0.0 %

30.7 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

0.2 %
0.3 %
1.1 %
0.2 %
< 0.1 %
0.1 %
0.1 %
0.0 %
< 0.1 %
< 0.1 %
0.1 %
0.2 %
97.4 %

0.8 %
Damp fields with tall herbaceous ground cover and scattered shrubs or saplings (Graber 1968); standing dead vegetation (Zimmerman 1988) and matted dead grass on the ground may be important habitat features (Rising and Beadle 1996). This habitat may occur along edges of streams (Potter et al. 1980), in unmowed hayfields (Ehrlich et al. 1988), or in grassy swamps. Also dry prairies in some parts of range. Avoid fields with much woody vegetation (Rising and Beadle 1996).

Nest is built on the ground, often in a depression, at the base of a plant and concealed by overhanging vegetation; some are up to 19.5 inches above the ground, attached to a vertical stem (Rising and Beadle 1996). Nests semi- colonially (Potter et al. 1980).


BREEDING: Open fields and meadows with grass interspersed with weeds or shrubby vegetation, especially in damp or low-lying areas, adjacent to salt marsh in some areas. Uses unmowed hayfields (abandoned if cut). Found in a variety of habitats that contain tall, dense grass and herbaceous vegetation (Smith 1968, 1992). Hyde (1939) describes a variety of preferred habitats: upland weedy hayfields or pastures without shrubs, wet meadows, drier areas of saltmarshes, grassy fields, and sedgy hillsides with recently planted pine seedlings (PINUS spp.). Graber (1968) found that their habitat was usually quite dense from 30-61 cm off the ground and reported them to be 'adapted' to unmowed hayfields. In New York, Peterson (1983) found them in large, ungrazed fields, often on hilltops, with a variety of moisture regimes and no woody invasion. They are not typically associated with grazed areas (Peterson 1983, Zimmerman 1988), although they can survive quite well in pastures that are only lightly (Skinner 1975) or moderately (Smith and Smith 1992) grazed. Wiens (1969), in his three year study, found four territories in the first and third years and none in the second year. He found that territories had a low percent cover of forbs, dense vegetation, a high effective vegetation height, little bare ground or low vegetation, and no trees, posts, or fence lines.

In eastern part of range, are reported in '...moist upland meadows not under the plow, grown up to clumps of ferns, tall meadow rue (THALICTRUM spp.), and scattered shrubbery' in Vermont (Kibbe and Laughlin 1985); '...in small swales, meadows or other moist grassy lands...in fields of heavy timothy or clover' in Massachusetts (Forbush 1929); and '...in grassy fields and meadows with scattered bushes and herbaceous plants, both in wet and dry situations' in New York (Bull 1974). In addition to the above types of habitats, occurrences have been reported in wet meadows vegetated by sedges (CAREX spp.), rushes (SCIRPUS spp.) and grasses, in fields of seedling pines, and in drier upland portions of saltmarshes in the Northeast (Craig 1979).

Along the Atlantic Coast, the birds probably nested on the edges of saltmarshes before the arrival of Europeans (Hyde 1939, Craig 1979). In West Virginia, Hall (1983) reports that Henslow's sparrows '...prefer fields with growths of orchard grass [DACTYLIS GLOMERATA] or a rank weedy growth.' Birds in Maryland have occurred chiefly in broomsedge (CAREX SCOPARIA) fields and weedy sedge meadows, and occasionally in hayfields (Stewart and Robbins 1958). Near Louisville, Kentucky, '...exclusively in or near fields largely or wholly composed of the orchard grass much raised locally as a crop, and has preferred the crop fields to patches of untended grass' (Mengel 1965). In Kentucky, Mengel (1965) noted that the sparrow often occurred in association with sedge wrens (CISTOTHORUS PLATENSIS) and in dry, upland sites that were in marked contrast to the marshy, meadow habitats considered typical habitat by Hyde (1939).

In the Midwest and Great Plains regions, formerly bred in tallgrass prairie interspersed with forbs and shrubs. Where tallgrass prairie persists, J. Zimmerman (pers. comm.) reports that they still use it for nesting habitat in Kansas and Missouri. Presently, typical breeding habitat includes neglected grassy fields, pastures and meadows with scattered shrubby vegetation, or hayfields with dense cover, usually in damp or low-lying areas (Whitney et al. 1978, Johnsgard 1979, AOU 1983).

In a brome grass/alfalfa/red clover hayfield in southwestern Michigan, they bred in areas with an intermediate moisture range, a continuous cover of grasses and sedges about 0.8 m high, occasional shrubs, mostly less than 0.9 m high, and accumulated litter (no data on litter depth or percent coverage) (Robins 1971).

Fall and Eliason (1982) located a nest in Hennepin County, Minnesota, at the top of a knoll in an old field. Timothy comprised about 80% of the biomass of the 0.5 m-high vegetation. Except for a few shrubs approximately 0.5 m-high, there was no woody vegetation within 100 m, the vegetation covered about 75% of the soil surface, and there was a complete litter layer up to five cm deep.

Wiens (1969) compared the vegetation structure at nests with the vegetation in unoccupied areas in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. Occupied areas had significantly lower coverage and density of forbs, especially broad-leaved types, and the forb height was significantly greater (occupied average height = 27 cm). In occupied areas, the vertical vegetation density was higher and the litter was deeper and covered a higher percentage of the soil surface (average depth = 4.3 cm, 93% coverage).

Nest is well-hidden in grass, either at base of grass tuft (usually) or to 40 cm up in stems of growing herbage.

NON-BREEDING: In migration and winter also occurs in grassy areas adjacent to pine woods or second-growth woods. No detailed descriptions or studies of the habitat requirements of the winter range are available.

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
124 Maritime Scrubs and Tidal Shrublands Coastal shrubs including wax-myrtle, swamp rose, alder, yaupon, and greenbriar. Maritime Shrubs, Salt Shrub
371 Maritime Grasslands Dune grass community consisting of sea oats and beach grasses. Dune grass, Maritime dry grassland
97 Mesic Longleaf Pine Longleaf pine woodlands without a major scrub oak component. Slash or loblolly pines may be present as well. Mesic Pine Flatwoods
42 Xeric Longleaf Pine Sandhills including a range of longleaf pine density from predominantly wiregrass, scrub oak dominated to true longleaf pine woodland. This does not include mesic or saturated flatwood types. Xeric Sandhill Scrub, Pine/Scrub Oak Sandhill, Coastal Fringe Sandhill
180 Agricultural Crop Fields Farm fields used for row crops. No equivalent
205 Agricultural Pasture/Hay and Natural Herbaceous Farm fields used for pasture grass or hay production, as well as old fields dominated by native and exotic grasses. No equivalent
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
Graber, J. W. 1968. PASSERBERBULUS HENSLOWII HENSLOWII. Pages 779-88 in Bent, A. C. Life Histories of North American Cardinals, Grosbeaks, Buntings, Towhees, Finches, Sparrows, and Allies. Part 2. U.S. National Museum Bulletin 237:603-1248.

Skinner, R.M. 1975. Grassland use patterns and prairie bird populations in Missouri. Pp. 171-180 in:M.K. Wali (ed.). Prairie:a multiple view. Univ. of North Dakota Press, Grand Forks, ND. 433pp.

Fall, B. A., and R. D. Eliason. 1982. Henslow's sparrow nest, Hennepin County. Loon 54:192.

Zink, R.M., and J.C. Avise. 1990. Patterns of mitochondrial DNA and allozyme evolution in the avian genus AMMODRAMUS. Syst. Zool. 39:148-161.

Carter, M., G. Fenwick, C. Hunter, D. Pashley, D. Petit, J. Price, and J. Trapp. 1996. Watchlist 1996:For the future. Field Notes 50(3):238-240.

Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1992. Birds in jeopardy:the imperiled and extinct birds of the United States and Canada, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 259 pp.

Herkert, J. R., editor. 1992. Endangered and threatened species of Illinois:status and distribution. Vol. 2:Animals. Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board. iv + 142 pp.

Zimmerman, J.L. Division of Biology. Ackert Hall. Manhattan, KS 66506. (913) 532-6659.

Hands, H.M., R.D. Drobney, and M.R. Ryan. 1989. Status of the Henslow's sparrow in the northcentral United States. Missouri Coop. Fish Wildl. Res. Unit Rep. 12 pp.

Herkert, J.R. 1994. Status and habitat selection of the Henslow's sparrow in Illinois. Wilson Bulletin 106:35-45.

Smith, D.J., and C.R. Smith. 1992. Henslow's sparrow and grasshopper sparrow:a comparison of habitat use in Finger Lakes National Forest, New York. Bird Observer 20(4):187-194.

Smith, C. R. 1992. Henslow's sparrow, AMMODRAMUS HENSLOWII. Pages 315-330 in K. J. Schneider and D. M. Pence, editors. Migratory nongame birds of management concern in the Northeast. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, Massachusetts. 400 pp.

Figg, D.E. 1991. Missouri Department of Conservation annual nongame and endangered species report July 1990 - June 1991. ii + 35 pp.

Zimmerman, J.L. 1988. Breeding season habitat selection by the Henslow's Sparrow (AMMODRAMUS HENSLOWII) in Kansas. Wilson Bulletin 100(1):17-24.

Bull, J. 1974. Birds of New York state. Doubleday/Natural History Press, Garden City, New York. Reprint, 1985 (with Supplement, Federation of New York Bird Clubs, 1976), Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, New York.

Hyde, A. S. 1939. The life history of Henslow's sparrow, PASSERHERBULUS HENSLOWII (Audubon). University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Misc. Pub. No. 41. 72. pp.

Hall, G.A. 1983. West Virginia birds:distribution and ecology. Spec. Publ. Carnegie Mus. Nat. Hist. No. 7, Pittsburgh. 180 pp.

Mengel, R. M. 1965. The birds of Kentucky. Ornithol. Monogr. No. 3. 581 pp.

Peterson, A. 1983. Observations on habitat selection by Henslow's sparrow in Broome County, New York. Kingbird 33:155-164.

Bent, A. C. 1968. Life histories of North American cardinals, grosbeaks, buntings, towhees, finches, sparrows, and allies. Bull. U.S. Nat. Mus. 237.

Harrison, C. 1978. A field guide to the nests, eggs and nestlings of North American birds. Collins, Cleveland, Ohio.

Whitney, N. R., B. E. Harrell, B. K. Harris, N. Holden, J. W. Johnson, B. H. Rose and P. F. Springer. 1978. The birds of South Dakota. South Dakota Ornithologists Union, Vermillion, South Dakota. 311 pp.

Craig, R.J. 1979. The rare vertebrates of Connecticut. USDA. Soil Conservation Service. Storrs, Connecticut. 69 pp.

Harrison, H.H. 1979. A field guide to western birds' nests. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 279 pp.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains:breeding species and their distribution. Univ. Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 539 pp.

Potter, E. F., J. F. Parnell, and R. P. Teulings. 1980. Birds of the Carolinas. Univ. North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. 408 pp.

Terres, J.K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

American Ornithologists' Union (AOU), Committee on Classification and Nomenclature. 1983. Check-list of North American Birds. Sixth Edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas.

Robbins, C.S., D. Bystrak, and P.H. Geissler. 1986. The Breeding Bird Survey:its first fifteen years. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serv. Resource Publ. 157. iii + 196 pp.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Migratory Bird Management. 1987. Migratory nongame birds of management concern in the United States:the 1987 list.

Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook:a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Shuster, Inc., New York. xxx + 785 pp.

Root, T. 1988. Atlas of wintering North American birds:An analysis of Christmas Bird Count data. University of Chicago Press. 336 pp.

Byrd, M.A., and D.W. Johnston. 1991. Birds. Pages 477-537 in K. Terwilliger, coordinator. Virginia's endangered species:proceedings of a symposium. McDonald and Woodward Publ. Co., Blacksburg, Virginia.

Smith, W. P. 1968. Eastern Henslow's sparrow. Pages 776-778 in O. L. Austin, Jr. Life histories of North American cardinals, grosbeaks, bunting, towhees, finches, sparrows, and allies. Part Two. U.S. National Museum Bulletin No. 237.

Wiens, J.A. 1969. An approach to the study of ecological relationships among grassland birds. Ornithological Monographs No. 8:1-93.

Robins, J. D. 1971. A study of Henslow's sparrow in Michigan. The Wilson Bulletin 83:39-48.

10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853