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Henslow’s Sparrow

Recovery Strategy for the Henslow’s Sparrow

(Ammodramus henslowii)

in Canada [PROPOSED]

the Henslow’s Sparrow

July 2006

About the Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)? 

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003, and one of its purposes is “to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.” 

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species is arrested or reversed and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species’ persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Sections 37–46 of SARA (http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/approach/act/default_e.cfm)outline both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more 

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA PublicRegistry (http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/)and the Web site of the Recovery Secretariat  (http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/sar/recovery/default_e.cfm).

Recommended citation:

Environment Canada. 2006. Recovery Strategy for the Henslow’s Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. vi + 25 pp.

Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry (http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/).

Cover illustration:Judie Shore

Également disponible en français sous le titre

« Programme de rétablissement du Bruant de Henslow(Ammodramus henslowii) au Canada [Proposition]»

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2006. All rights reserved.

ISBN  To come

Cat. no. To come

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


Environment Canada has developed its recovery strategy for the Henslow’s Sparrow as required by the Species at Risk Act. This proposed recovery strategy has been prepared in cooperation with jurisdictions responsible for the species, as described in the Preface.

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Environment Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of the Environment invites all Canadians to join Environment Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of Henslow’s Sparrow and Canadian society as a whole. Environment Canada will endeavour to support implementation of this strategy, given available resources and varying species at risk conservation priorities. The Minister will report on progress within five years.

This strategy will be complemented by one or more action plans that will provide details on specific recovery measures to be taken to support conservation of the species. The Minister will take steps to ensure that, to the extent possible, Canadians directly affected by these measures will be consulted.

Responsible Jurisdictions

Environment Canada – Ontario Region

Parks Canada Agency

Government of Ontario


This recovery strategy was prepared by Jennie L. Pearce (Pearce & Associates Ecological Research), David A. Kirk (Aquila Applied Ecologists), and Ken Tuininga (Canadian Wildlife Service – Ontario Region).


We thank Ray Adams (Kalamazoo Nature Centre), Dan Brauning (Pennsylvania Game Commission), Karen Cleveland (Michigan Department of Natural Resources), Kim Corwin (New York Breeding Bird Atlas), Julie Gibson (Michigan Natural Features Inventory), Jim Herkert (Nature Conservancy, Illinois), Scott Hull (Ohio Department of Natural Resources), Richard Knapton (Biologist, Edmonton, Alberta), Sarah Lazazzero (State University of New York at Brockport), Mike McMurtry (Natural Heritage Information Centre, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources), Mike Morgan (Audubon New York), Robert Mulvihill (Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas), Chris Norment (State University of New York at Brockport), Todd Norris (Kingston District, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources), Paul Novak (New York State Department of Conservation), Don Sutherland (Natural Heritage Information Centre, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources), Mark Wiercinski, and Allen Woodliffe (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) for valuable information and discussion about Henslow’s Sparrow. Valuable comments were also received from Madeline Austen, Corina Brdar, Brenda Dale, Sandy Dobbyn, Angela McConnell, Chris Risley, and Christine Vance. Funding for the strategy’s development was provided by the Canadian Wildlife Service – Ontario Region. Thanks also to Canadian Wildlife Service, Habitat Conservation Section for their advice and Canadian Wildlife Service, Recovery Section for their advice and efforts in preparing this document for posting. Thanks go to Judie Shore for the cover drawing and to Christine Vance for preparing the maps. Thanks also go to the official sponsors of the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (Bird Studies Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Ontario Field Ornithologists, and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) for supplying atlas data, and to the thousands of volunteer participants who gathered the data for the project.

Strategic Environmental Assessment

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally-sound decision making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the strategy itself, but are also summarized below.

This recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the Henslow’s Sparrow. The potential for the strategy to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species was considered. The SEA concluded that this strategy will clearly benefit the environment and will not entail any significant adverse effects. Refer to the following sections of the document in particular: 1.3 Needs of Henslow’s Sparrow; 2.4 Approaches Recommended to Meet Recovery Objectives; and 2.7 Effects on Other Species.


SARA defines residence as: a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating[Subsection 2(1)].

Residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry: http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/sar/recovery/residence_e.cfm.


Henslow’s Sparrow was officially assessed as endangered in April 1993, and its status was confirmed in November 2000. It is also a migratory bird protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and is under the management jurisdiction of the federal government. The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed extirpated, endangered, or threatened species. The Canadian Wildlife Service – Ontario Region, Environment Canada, led the development of this recovery strategy, which is an update of the National Recovery Plan for Henslow’s Sparrow (Austen et al. 1997), in cooperation with the Province of Ontario and the Parks Canada Agency. All responsible jurisdictions reviewed and approved the strategy. This proposed strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39–41).

Executive Summary

Henslow’s Sparrow is a small grassland sparrow that is restricted to southern Ontario in Canada and is listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as an endangered species. In Canada, its population was an estimated 50 breeding pairs in the early 1980s, but in the 2001-2005 Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas breeding evidence was documented at only nine locations. This species also has a scattered and localized distribution in the northeastern United States, where its population has also been declining in many states. Henslow’s Sparrow has undergone a continental-scale average annual decline of 8.7% since 1966.

The loss and degradation of both breeding and wintering habitat have been identified as key threats and limiting factors for this species throughout its range. Its decline appears to closely track the loss of grassland and old-field habitats on the breeding grounds due to industrial and residential development and changes to agricultural practices. Changes to fire management of pine savanna on the wintering grounds have also resulted in loss and degradation of habitat.

Henslow’s Sparrow requires large areas of grassland habitat for breeding, rearing, and feeding. Breeding habitat is characterized by tall, dense grassland with a high percentage cover of grass and with a thick thatch layer and deep litter layer. Sites with trees and shrubs (or posts, fencelines, and wires) that emerge above the grass layer are avoided. Grassland habitats in wet, low-lying areas may provide more stable habitat. Henslow’s Sparrows appear to be an area-sensitive species, particularly when populations are at low densities; large grassland areas greater than 50 ha in size may be required for their recovery.

The recovery goal for Henslow’s Sparrow is to achieve at least 50 breeding pairs spread over three geographically distinct grassland patches within the next 20 years. The recovery goal will be achieved primarily through habitat rehabilitation and management, in conjunction with recovery efforts for other grassland, prairie, and wetland species. Grassland patches greater than 50 ha in size are recommended. Little research is available on this species in Canada; consequently, much of the information presented is based on U.S. research. Grassland management methods used in the United States provide a model for Canada, and recovery of the Canadian population should be undertaken in close collaboration with managers in the United States. The recovery goal will recover the Canadian population to a level that is stable with immigration from the United States.  

The 2001–2005 Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas documented breeding evidence at only nine locations. Critical habitat will be identified in an action plan for the species, since there is not enough information currently available to identify it in this recovery strategy. The recovery strategy also summarizes available information on successful recovery efforts for Henslow’s Sparrow in the United States. The recovery strategy provides direction for the next five years.

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