The Carden Alvar has one of the highest breeding
densities of Grasshopper Sparrows in Ontario. The key to finding
this uncommon and easily overlooked sparrow is knowing its habitat
and insect-like song.
IDENTIFICATION: The Grasshopper is a small
short-tailed sparrow with an unstreaked buffy breast. Other sparrows
of large open fields such as Vesper, Savannah and Henslow’s are
streaked below. Note that female and juvenile Bobolinks are
sometimes mistaken for Grasshopper Sparrows.
VOICE: The Grasshopper Sparrow is easiest
to find and identify by its high-pitched buzzy song pit-tup
shrzzzzzzeeeeee. A second song is a variety of high sizzling
notes. It sings persistently from low shrubs, weed tufts, mullein
stalks, fence wires, fence posts, and boulders. It often sings
throughout the day.
HABITS: This secretive sparrow is
difficult to find except when singing or feeding young. In flight it
flutters close to the ground before dropping into the grass, or if
you’re lucky it perches in view.
HABITAT: The Grasshopper Sparrow prefers
large sparsely-vegetated dry meadows with a mix of wildflowers. It
avoids damp fields and those overgrown with shrubs.
CONSERVATION: The pratensis
subspecies found in Ontario and Quebec is listed as Special
Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in
Canada (COSEWIC). Like many grassland birds, it continues to decline
as more fields are converted to row crops or revert back to
woodlands. Light cattle grazing and prescribed burning are important
tools for maintaining nesting habitat for Grasshopper Sparrows and
other grassland birds.
BEST PLACES: Listening for Grasshopper
Sparrows in dry meadows along Wylie Road, Shrike Road and other
quiet back roads should produce sightings.
TIP: Older birders often have difficulty
hearing the high-pitched song of the Grasshopper Sparrow. If you
cannot hear its song, take young birders to the Carden Alvar;
they’ll appreciate the transportation and cheerfully point out
singing Grasshopper Sparrows!
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I thank Michel Gosselin
for proofing and Jean Iron for the photo.