Friday, April 22, 2016

Henslow's Sparrows

Henslow’s Sparrows returned to Blue Jay Barrens about three weeks ago, and they are still sorting out their territories.  Territory boundaries have not been a problem before because we’ve never had more than two singing males here at any one time.  This year there are at least three males vying for the best spots in the field.

The first Henslow’s Sparrow showed up in this 11 acre field about 15 years ago.  At that time only about half of the field had been colonized by Indian Grass.  The rest of the field was either Canada Goldenrod or cool season grasses.  It was about eight years later that Indian Grass came to dominate the entire field.  Soon after that, a second Henslow’s Sparrow arrived with the spring migration.  The two males took up positions at opposite ends of the long field and left each other in peace.  With three males, there have been some border squabbles.  Two males perch close to each other and fire calls back and forth like a fast paced ping pong match.  I inadvertently walked up on one of these skirmishes and flushed five sparrows from the grass.  All five took short flights and dove into the tall grass.  Five males?  Two males and three females?  Two singing Henslow’s and three Field Sparrow spectators?  They moved too fast for me focus, so I’m not sure of the group’s composition.

The singing males have been perching about half way up the dead Indian Grass stalks, so it’s been difficult to see them, let along take any photographs.  Today, a Henslow’s Sparrow was calling from a position about 50 feet behind my vegetable garden.  I could see him, but he was partially obscured by Indian Grass stalks blowing in the breeze. 

Then he shifted his position by a few feet and became more visible.  I managed to get one shot before he moved off to the north.

Seconds later, another male flew in from the south.  This bird was slightly closer and a little more exposed than the first.  I’m not sure what he was doing in this shot, since he didn't actually sing at this point.  Possibly he was just limbering up in preparation for singing.

He sang and sang and sang.  This is the area where I witnessed territorial battles.  Maybe the birds have worked out their differences and were just out to remind each other of the location of their agreed upon border line.

Here is a short video of a singing Henslow’s Sparrow.  I managed to keep the bird in frame, but I was leaning sideways to see around a clump of grass and the image bobs a bit.  If that bothers you, close your eyes and just listen to the song.  You can view a possibly clearer version of this video on YouTube by clicking HERE .


  1. That's a pretty neat species to have neating nearby! They're very rare in Ontario.

    1. Hi, Stew. They are an uncommon species here. I'm lucky to have them using my field.

  2. they appear to have a bits of light brownish red and yellow?

    1. Hi, Renee. They do. They are rather colorful when seen up close, but their pattern makes them almost invisible when they are down in the grass.