Harris's Sparrow Zonotrichia querula Scientific name definitions

Christopher J. Norment, Scott A. MacDougall-Shackleton, Doris J. Watt, Peter Pyle, and Michael A. Patten
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated December 2, 2016


Field Identification

Large and moderately long-tailed; the largest North American member of the subfamily Emberizinae except for towhees (Pipilo) and the largest of the five species of Zonotrichia. Total length 18–20 cm (males) and 17–19 cm (females); mass 34–45 g (males) and 30–42 g (females). Bill pink; upperparts mostly brown, back and scapulars streaked with black; underparts mostly white. Adults in Alternate plumage have black hood covering nape, crown, lores, throat, and center of upper breast; contrasts with gray face. Adults in Basic plumage are browner on face, with brown obscuring some of the black on crown and nape, and black throat sometimes marked with white. Considered sexually monochromatic; adult males average more black on chin and throat than do adult females during fall and winter (Rohwer et al. 1981) but considerable overlap. Immatures in first Basic plumage similar to dullest winter adults but with throat mainly white, very little black on face or crown. All birds with varying degrees and patterning of dark spotting on breast.

Harris's Sparrows have 9 full-length primaries (numbered p1–p9 distally), 9 secondaries (numbered s1–s9 proximally and including 3 tertials, s7–s9 in passerines), and 12 rectrices (numbered r1–r6 distally on each side of the tail). No geographic variation in appearance (see Systematics: Geographic Variation) or geographic or sex-specific variation in molt strategies reported.

Similar Species

Adults unlikely to be mistaken for other species. Winter immatures possibly confused with Lapland Longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus) in Basic plumage, but the longspur is much shorter-tailed with white outer rectrices, has rich rufous in greater coverts, and is strictly terrestrial on open ground.

Recommended Citation

Norment, C. J., S. A. MacDougall-Shackleton, D. J. Watt, P. Pyle, and M. A. Patten (2020). Harris's Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.harspa.01