Scientific name: Anthus spragueii
IUCN designation: Vulnerable
SARA designation: Threatened
COSEWIC designation: Threatened
The elusive Sprague’s Pipit is the resident songbird of the AMASS project.
It is a small bird, comparable to a sparrow, with both adult males and females only 15-17 cm (6-7 in) in length having wingspans of 25 cm (10 in)1,2. To camouflage with its grasslands habitat, the Pipit’s plumage on its chest is predominately tan colored, with brown and white plumage on its wings, and a streaked crown3,4. Other distinguishing characteristics include its big black eyes and its pale pink legs3. During breeding season, male Sprague’s Pipits can be recognized by their elaborate aerial displays where they spiral upwards and circle down 92-152 m (300-500 ft); this is accompanied by their sleigh bell-like courtship song5.
The Sprague’s Pipit migrates from open, well-drained native prairie grassland in the Canadian Prairies and the Northern Great Plains US states to its wintering grounds in the US Gulf Coast and in northern Mexico1,6.
It is frequently called the “Goldilocks” species of the prairies because of its very specific habitat requirements10. Sprague’s Pipits perform optimally in grasslands that are of intermediate height, have a little or an intermediate amount of vegetation density, small amounts of bare ground and little to moderate depths of litter7,8.
Being a grassland specialist has made the Sprague’s Pipit very vulnerable to the degradation and loss of native prairie grasslands found in their breeding grounds and the coastal prairie/desert grasslands found in their wintering grounds7,9. Although listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN (global designation), habitat degradation, fragmentation and pesticide use, have led to a steady decline in the Canadian Pipit populations7,10. Between 1966 and 2005, these populations declined by 4.8% annually11.
Abiding by certain management practices to protect native grassland is key to conserving the microhabitats of Sprague’s Pipits. These include controlled grazing to reduce dense or tall vegetation, or prescribed burns to reduce the spread of exotic place species and reduce woody vegetation7.