Species Profile

Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies

Scientific Name: Passerculus sandwichensis princeps
Other/Previous Names: "Ipswich" Savannah Sparrow
Taxonomy Group: Birds
Range: Nova Scotia
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2009
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern


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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies

Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies Photo 1

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Description

The Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies is paler, greyer, and larger than any other eastern race of the species. It has greyish-brown upper parts streaked with white, black and buff; a distinctive yellow stripe over and in front of the eye (which is very faint in the autumn and winter); whitish under parts streaked with greyish- brown; and a dusky, slightly forked tail.

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Distribution and Population

The Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies nests almost exclusively on Sable Island; a few have nested on beaches in Nova Scotia. This bird winters in the Middle Atlantic States, between Nova Scotia and northern Florida; a small number winter in Nova Scotia. The population of the Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies fluctuates irregularly from about 1250 to 3400 birds in spring and increases to about 5000 to 14750 in late summer after the young have fledged. The population can fluctuate considerably from year to year but appears stable over the long term.

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Habitat

The Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies nests in heath-dominated terrain and in dense marram grass on coastal dunes and upper beaches. The heath areas are preferred by the birds and also result in better nesting success. The birds prefer outer dune beaches with good grass cover and some topographical relief during the winter.

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Biology

Female Savannah Sparrows princeps subspecies can have three or even four successful broods in one season. Nests of grass and other vegetation are built in hollows scratched in the ground, usually under the shelter of a shrub, small tree or tussock of grass. Clutches usually contain 4 or 5 eggs. The Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies is known to interbreed occasionally with the mainland race of the Savannah Sparrow.

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Threats

Because the Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies has a limited breeding range, it is vulnerable to short-term changes in other limiting factors. The migration of this bird is greatly dependent on the weather, which makes it vulnerable to weather-related catastrophes. Cold weather, as well as predation and lack of food, on its wintering grounds can also adversely affect the population, and winter mortality is an important constraint on the population. Beaches on the wintering range have been destroyed or have become heavily used by humans, but this does not appear to be having a long-term effect on the sparrow's population. Predation on eggs and chicks on the breeding grounds can cause serious damage in years when the population is already low. However, all these factors affect the sparrow in the short term. The main factor limiting the overall population size of the subspecies seems to be the limited amount of available habitat on its breeding grounds.

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Protection

Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies is protected by the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act. Under this Act, it is prohibited to kill, harm, or collect adults, young, and eggs. Sable Island, which provides breeding habitat for this species, is a federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

6 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies Passerculus sandwichensis in Canada (2010)

    Passerculus sandwichensis princeps is a subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow that is commonly known as “Ipswich sparrow.” It is distinguished from the other subspecies of Savannah Sparrow mainly by its larger size and greyer, paler plumage. A recent genetic study of variation in mitochondrial DNA shows no strong genetic difference between Ipswich sparrows and other Savannah Sparrows. Nevertheless, a recent morphological study suggests that the subspecific status should be retained.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment Summary and Status Report: Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis princeps subspecies (2010)

    Assessment Summary – November 2009 Common name Savannah Sparrow Scientific name Passerculus sandwichensis princeps subspecies Status Special Concern Reason for designation This songbird is largely restricted to the sandy dune systems of Sable Island, NS. The population has increased over recent decades and now shows signs of stability because the island has reached carrying capacity. The bird is not prone to human disturbance because the breeding location is well protected. The subspecies is also multi–brooded and currently experiences good nesting success, which confers good reproductive potential to cope with potential catastrophic events. Nevertheless, its breeding range is restricted to a very small area of Canada, and it has a relatively small population. It is also exposed to ongoing threats associated with development of its shoreline wintering habitat in the eastern U.S., and is vulnerable to sea–level rise and increasing frequency and intensity of Atlantic storms that are projected to occur as a result of climate change. Occurrence Nova Scotia Status history Designated Special Concern in April 1979. Status re–examined and confirmed in May 2000 and in November 2009.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies (2010)

    This songbird is largely restricted to the sandy dune systems of Sable Island, NS.  The population has increased over recent decades and now shows signs of stability because the island has reached carrying capacity. The bird is not prone to human disturbance because the breeding location is well protected. The subspecies is also multi-brooded and currently experiences good nesting success, which confers good reproductive potential to cope with potential catastrophic events. Nevertheless, its breeding range is restricted to a very small area of Canada, and it has a relatively small population. It is also exposed to ongoing threats associated with development of its shoreline wintering habitat in the eastern U.S., and is vulnerable to sea-level rise and increasing frequency and intensity of Atlantic storms that are projected to occur as a result of climate change.

Management Plans

  • Management plan for the Savannah Sparrow, princeps subspecies (Passerculus sandwichensis princeps), in Canada (2006)

    The Savannah Sparrow, princeps subspecies (“Ipswich Sparrow”), is a migratory bird covered under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and is under the management jurisdiction of the federal government. The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 65) requires the competent minister to prepare management plans for listed species of special concern. The Ipswich Sparrow was listed as a species of special concern under SARA in June 2003. The Canadian Wildlife Service – Atlantic Region, Environment Canada, led the development of this management plan. Nova Scotia, the only responsible jurisdiction, reviewed and approved the plan. The plan meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 65–66).

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 (2010)

    Under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. During the past year, COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings and reviewed the status of 79 wildlife species (species, subspecies, populations). During the meeting of November 2009, COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of the status of 28 wildlife species. COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of an additional 51 wildlife species (species, subspecies and populations) during their April 2010 meeting. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2009-2010 reporting period include the following: Extirpated: 6 Endangered: 39 Threatened: 16 Special Concern: 17 Data Deficient: 1 This report transmits to the Minister the status of 46 species newly classified as extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern, fulfilling COSEWIC’s obligations under SARA Section 24 and 25. A full detailed summary of the assessment for each species and the reason for the designation can be found in Appendix I of the attached report. Since its inception, COSEWIC has assessed 602 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 262 Endangered, 151 Threatened, 166 Special Concern and 23 Extirpated. In addition, 13 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct. Also, to date, 46 wildlife species have been identified by COSEWIC as Data Deficient and 166 wildlife species were assessed as Not at Risk. This year has been a particularly productive year for COSEWIC’s Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) Subcommittee. In April 2010 COSEWIC approved the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Process and Protocol Guidelines, providing clear and agreed principles for the gathering of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge to carry out COSEWIC functions as required under Section 15(2) of SARA (See Appendix III of the attached report). We are grateful for the rich and enthusiastic contribution made by community elders and experts in helping the ATK Subcommittee prepare the ATK protocols.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – November 2010 (2010)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by February 4, 2011 for species undergoing normal consultations and by February 4, 2012 for species undergoing extended consultations.