Anthus spragueii


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Anthus spragueii
Species Authority: (Audubon, 1844)
Common Name(s):
English Sprague's Pipit

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2bce+3bce+4bce ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2012-05-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S. & Symes, A.
Contributor(s): Grantham, J., Jones, S. & Prescott, D.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Bird, J., Derhé, M., Harding, M., Pople, R., Wege, D.
This species qualifies as Vulnerable owing to a rapid ongoing population decline. The rate of decline in the USA is now not so severe as formerly, but declines may be worsening in Canada.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Anthus spragueii breeds relatively commonly in grasslands of south-east Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, south-west Manitoba and occasionally southern British Columbia, Canada, and north and central Montana, North Dakota, and locally South Dakota, casually to north-west Minnesota, USA (Prescott 1997, Prescott and Davis 1998, Robbins and Dale 1999). It winters throughout southern USA and northern Mexico to Guerrero and Veracruz (Prescott and Davis 1998). The population has declined annually by 3.9% since 1966 (Prescott 1997, Prescott and Davis 1998, D. R. C. Prescott in litt. 1999), but the most significant declines probably occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Robbins and Dale 1999). In the USA, the decline was greatest (7.8% per year) during the 1960s and 1970s, but in Canada, the annual decline rate has slowed to 3.6% since 1980 (Sauer et al. 2007).

Canada; Mexico; United States
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Rich et al. (2003).

Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: It inhabits well-drained native grasslands, usually in patches of at least 145 ha (Davis 2004) with density increasing with pasture size (Davis 2004), especially with sparse to intermediate grass densities, moderate litter depths, few visual obstructions and little woody vegetation (Dechant et al. 1999, Robbins and Dale 1999). It also breeds in planted grasslands in some parts of its range, predominantly those with similar vegetation characteristics to native grasslands. In particular, planted fields with a low amount of alfalfa and suitable vegetation height (20–30 cm) are likely suitable breeding sites (Fisher and Davis 2011). On migration, it also occurs in stubble and fallow fields, arriving late April to mid-May on the breeding grounds, and late September to early November on the wintering grounds (Robbins and Dale 1999). Its numbers fluctuate from year to year based on precipitation rates from up to three years previously.

Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Conversion of prairie to seeded pasture, hayfields and cropland, and inappropriate grazing are responsible for habitat loss, degradation of remaining grassland and rapid declines in population (Robbins and Dale 1999). Since 1900, c.75% of native Canadian prairies and c.80% of aspen parklands have been converted (Prescott 1997). Strip-mining for tar sands is expected to increase in the future, with up to 300,000 ha of Canada's boreal forest and wetland predicted to be directly affected over the next 30 to 50 years (Wells et al. 2008). Birds may respond to edge to area ratio (Davis 2004) or distance to crops/hay (Koper and Schmiegelow 2006) as much as to area. Linear anthropogenic changes are associated with lowered densities (roads [Sutter et al. 2000], gas wells, pipelines and trails [Linnen et al. 2006]). The large-scale introduction of Eurasian plant species and their subsequent invasion of native prairie have reduced breeding densities (Robbins and Dale 1999). Grazing and burning can have positive or negative impacts on suitable habitat depending on moisture, soil-types, plant species, intensity and frequency (Robbins and Dale 1999). Nests are destroyed by haying prior to the fledging period. Virtual cessation of burning in the breeding zone and intensive grazing in the wintering zone has led to encroachment by shrubs and trees (Robbins and Dale 1999), and the preferred short prairie grass in wintering areas such as Texas is not conserved (J. Grantham in litt. 2003). Brood-parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds Molothrus ater is comparatively low, but is highest in fragmented habitat (Robbins and Dale 1999).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
It is listed as Threatened in Canada (COSEWIC 1999). Most habitat is unprotected but there are large areas in military reserves, national parks and on Prairie Farm Rehabilitation lands (Prescott and Davis 1998). These are relatively well protected against conversion to non-native cover. Agriculture censuses have provided some information on land-use trends, and breeding distribution and post-fledging movements are relatively well studied in Canada where monitoring programs and radio-tracking are underway (S. Jones et al. in litt. 2003, Davis and Fisher 2009).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Determine breeding distribution, centres of winter abundance, population size and decline rates. Monitor habitat conversion rates. Assess threats on wintering grounds. Protect large tracts of native grasslands (Dechant et al. 1999). The size of habitat required is disputed, with a minimum size of 145 ha suggested (S. Jones et al. in litt. 2003). Manage grasslands by removing invasive woody vegetation, and graze to maintain good to excellent range condition. A short burning rotation may be beneficial in more mesic areas or where growing conditions are good, but would have negative consequences in more arid locations/conditions and at sites with unproductive soils (S. Jones et al. in litt. 2003). Delay hayfield mowing until 15 July (if this habitat is found to be important for breeding birds), allowing >70% of nests to fledge. Restore altered upland communities to a natural state (Dechant et al. 1999).

Citation: BirdLife International 2012. Anthus spragueii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 04 September 2015.
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