Archived 2018 topic: Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula): revise global status?

Currently listed as Least Concern (BirdLife International 2018), Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula) is a breeding endemic of northern Canada. It is a migratory species, and overwinters in central and southern U.S.A. During the breeding season it occurs at the forest-tundra interface, while in the non-breeding season it will occur in shrub and edge-type habitats including suburban gardens (Rising 2018). Rosenberg et al. (2016) judge the key threats to the species to be loss of habitat due to urbanisation and agricultural conversion, but post-fire deforestation may be an additional threat (see Norment et al. 2016), and given its breeding habitat requirements climate change could have a big impact on the species and its habitat (see Norment et al. 2016).

Following the publication of Partners in Flight (PiF) Landbird Conservation Plan (Rosenberg et al. 2016) and The State of North America’s Birds 2016 (North American Bird Conservation Initiative 2016) we have reviewed the new information held in these publications, particularly regarding population trends. This has allowed us to reassess the species outlined in these publications against IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria. As the PiF data are long-term trends (1970-2014), where possible we have also used data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (Sauer et al. 2017) to assess more recent trends over the period relevant to the Red List. Having completed this review, Harris’s Sparrow appears to warrant a change in Red List status. Therefore, we present here our reassessment against all criteria for the species.


Criterion A – Rosenberg et al. (2016) estimate a population reduction of 63% between 1970 and 2014. Assuming a constant rate of decline, would give a reduction of 25.3% over three generations (12.9 years). There is no short-term Breeding Bird Survey data available for this species from Sauer et al. (2017) so we cannot clearly tell what recent trends have been. Therefore, we request any further information about recent population trends, but it does appear that the species may warrant listing as Near Threatened under criteria A2ac+3c+4ac.


Criterion B – The species’s range is far too large to warrant listing under this criterion (Extent of Occurrence [breeding] = 2,820,000km2; Extent of Occurrence [non-breeding] = 1,420,000km2).


Criterion C – Rosenberg et al. (2016) estimate the population size to be 2,000,000 mature individuals. This is far too large to warrant listing under this criterion.


Criterion D – The species’s population size and range are far too large to warrant listing under this criterion.


Criterion E – To the best of our knowledge there has been no quantitative analysis of extinction risk conducted for this species. Therefore, it cannot be assessed against this criterion.


Therefore, Harris’s Sparrow potentially warrants uplisting to Near Threatened. We welcome any comments or further information but please note that this topic is not designed to be a general discussion about the ecology of the species, rather a discussion of the species’ Red List status. Therefore, please make sure your comments are about the proposed listing.



BirdLife International. 2018. Species factsheet: Zonotrichia querula. Downloaded from on 09/03/2018.

Norment, C. J.; Shackleton, S. A.; Watt, D. J.; Pyle, P.; Patten, M. A. 2016. Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula), version 3.0. In: Rodewald, P. G. (ed). The Birds of North America. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, U.S.A.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2016. The State of North America’s Birds 2016. Environment and Climate Change Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

Rising, J. 2018. Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 9 March 2018).

Rosenberg, K. V., Kennedy, J. A., Dettmers, R., Ford, R. P., Reynolds, D., Alexander, J. D., Beardmore, C. J., Blancher, P. J., Bogart, R. E., Butcher, G. S., Camfield, A. F., Couturier, A., Demarest, D. W., Easton, W. E., Giocomo, J. J., Keller, R. H., Mini, A. E., Panjabi, A. O., Pashley, D. N., Rich, T. D., Ruth, J. M., Stabins, H., Stanton, J. and Will., T. 2016. Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision for Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Sauer, J. R.; Niven, D. K. ; Hines, J. E.; Ziolkowski, Jr, D. J.; Pardieck, K. L.; Fallon, J. E.; Link, W. A. 2017. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 – 2015. Version 2.07.2017 USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.

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3 Responses to Archived 2018 topic: Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula): revise global status?

  1. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Tim Meehan has kindly provided analyses of Christmas Bird Count data. Taken from long-term trends (1966-2017), these data suggest an annual decline of 1.95% (1.33-3.47% annual decline) in this species. This would equate to a reduction of 22.45% (15.86-36.57%) over three generations.

  2. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2018 Red List would be to adopt the proposed classifications outlined in the initial forum discussion.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline in mid-July, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from those in the initial proposal.
    The final 2018 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  3. Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas data (see: show very high abundances along the treeline-tundra transition zone, despite near-absence in the Churchill area proper (Churchill being the only place with a BBS route in this part of the species range). The peak count per atlas square was 2.8 individuals per point count ( The COSEWIC assessment in Canada, and Harris’s Sparrow is nearly endemic to Canada as a breeding species reached the conclusion of Special Concern (

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