Henslow's Sparrow

Ammodramus henslowii
Henslow's Sparrow specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

Due in part to its cryptic coloration, Henslow’s Sparrow is more often heard than seen. Buff-colored overall and streaked with black on the back, breast, and face, this bird is well-equipped to blend into its surroundings. This is one of our smaller sparrows, at around 5 inches long. Henslow’s Sparrow primarily breeds in the eastern Great Plains, lower Great Lakes states, and in western Pennsylvania and New York. Isolated breeding areas can be found on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and in eastern North Carolina. In winter, Henslow’s Sparrows migrate south to the Gulf coast and the coastal southeast from southern North Carolina to Florida. This species previously bred in the northeast, but no longer breeds there due to habitat degradation. Henslow’s Sparrow breeds in tall, dense grasslands with a thick layer of dead grass and leaves on the ground. This sparrow forages for grasshoppers and beetles on the ground beneath tall grass. Populations breeding in the northeast bred in salt marshes. Like many grassland-dwelling bird species, Henslow’s Sparrow is best identified by ear, specifically by listening for its simple “tse-zlik” song. Due to its feeding habits and coloration, Henslow’s Sparrows are difficult to see while at rest, and may be most easily seen while on short flights above the grass.

DC Information

Local summer resident in overgrown fields. Arrives early in April, leaves by October. Nests in old fields from late May to mid-July. The sexes are alike.

Specimen Information

The image above shows a female Henslow's Sparrow, one of two on a forked branch.  The sparrow below this bird in the image is part of the cluster of Saltmarsh/Nelson's Sparrows described separately.
The male Henslow's Sparrow is to the left (not shown here), above the female.
Date:  5/3/1884
Collected By:  Wm Palmer
Locality:  Alexandria Co, VA
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  97719
This is the description for the female on the same branch, above a Nelson's Sparrow in the exhibit below this pair.
Date:  5/3/1884
Collected By:  Wm Palmer
Locality:  Alexandria Co, VA
Sex:  Female
Catalog ID:  97720

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC31151 Ammodramus henslowii (Henslow's Sparrow)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC31152 Ammodramus henslowii (Henslow's Sparrow)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC31153 Ammodramus henslowii (Henslow's Sparrow)