Description of the Harris's Sparrow


The Harris's Sparrow is a large sparrow with black-streaked brownish upperparts, a black face with a variable amount of black on the breast, white underparts, and a pink bill.


Harris's Sparrow


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles are heavily streaked below, and first winter birds have little black in the face.


Harris's Sparrows breed in stunted northern forests, and winter in a variety of woodlands and brushy habitats.


Harris's Sparrows eat seeds, insects, and berries.


Harris's Sparrows forage on the ground or in small bushes.  When startled, they fly up into the tops of bushes, rather than down low into bushes as most other sparrows tend to do.


Harris's Sparrows breed in central to northern Canada and winter in a relatively small area of the southern Great Plains. The population is thought to be stable.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Harris's Sparrow.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird's wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species' identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

Fun Facts

The nest of the Harris's Sparrow was one of the last North American passerine nests to be found by scientists, and was found by ornithologist George Miksch Sutton in a summer race with Canadian ornithologists to be the first to find one.

The Harris's Sparrow is the largest sparrow in North America.


The most common call is a loud, rather metallic "cheek".


The nest is a cup of moss and lichens lined with fine materials, and usually placed on the ground under a shrub or low tree branch.

Number: Usually lay 4 eggs.
Color: Pale green with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 12-15 days, and leave the nest in another 8-10 days, though continuing to associate with the adults for some time.