Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Description: This bird is a small (5 inches, 11.4 cm), inconspicuous brown streaked sparrow with a broad golden or dull orange stripe in its crown. Its song is three "chips" followed by a trill, which can help in detecting this shy, secretive bird.
Habitat and Habits: The Baird's sparrow prefers extensive idle or lightly-grazed mixed grass prairie, wet meadow or tall grass prairie, with abundant nesting cover. It usually does not breed in heavily grazed grasslands, and undisturbed grasslands tend to support more breeders than those with moderate or light grazing. The nest is constructed in a grass tuft near the ground. It may be in a self-excavated cavity, in a hoofprint, in a tuft of grass supported by a shrub or underneath an overhanging grass tuft. When disturbed on the breeding grounds, Baird's sparrows will run through the grass rather than fly.
Three to six eggs are laid from late May to mid August, and hatch in 11-12 days. Young birds remain in the nest for 8-10 days, fly at 13 days and leave the breeding territory at 19 days. Major predators are probably small mammals and other birds. During the breeding season, adult Baird's sparrows eat grasshoppers, spiders, moths, leaflhoppers and small insects. Seeds make up the bulk of the fall, winter and spring diet. The breeding range and preferred habitat may shift from year to year depending on breeding season moisture.
Distribution: The Baird's sparrow breeds from southeastern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan and southem Manitoba south to northwestern Montana, central South Dakota, southeastern North Dakota and west-central Minnesota. This species overwinters from southeastem Arizona and southem New Mexico south to northem Mexico and southem Texas. It arrives in South Dakota in late April-early May. It has been reported in Ordway Prairie in McPherson County, and from the northem counties of Harding, Perkins, Corson, Faulk, Dewey, Stanley and Edmunds.
Conservation Measures: The major threat to the Baird's sparrow is probably loss of habitat to cultivation and wetland drainage. Both upland and wet lowland grasslands are important habitats because the species may shift breeding habitats in wet and dry years. A frequent breeding bird census would be helpful in monitoring population and habitat shifts.