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Sprague's Pipit (Anthus spragueii)

Sprague's pipit


  • Males and females of this species are similar in size, ranging from 16 to 17 centimetres (six to seven inches) in length.


  • Males and females have similar characteristics, including:
    • Greyish brown upperparts streaked with buff
    • Lighter underparts with faint streaks on the breast
    • Thin bill
    • Light coloured legs
    • White outer tail feathers that show only in flight


  • The male song, given in flight, is a descending series of musical tzee notes that can continue for as long as an hour.
  • In Alberta, the breeding range of the Sprague's pipit once extended from southern Alberta through the aspen parkland to Athabasca and the Peace district, and west to the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Today, the range no longer includes northern areas.
  • Alberta lies at the northwestern corner of the range of the Sprague's pipit. In Canada and the USA, this extends through central Saskatchewan as far north as Prince Albert and Shoal Lake on the fringe of the boreal forest, through west-central and southern Manitoba, south to southern Montana, south-central South Dakota, and northwestern Minnesota.
Natural History


  • This species has a strong association with native prairie grasslands, although it also breeds sporadically in aspen parkland habitats.
  • These pipits generally avoid areas with introduced grasses and cultivated lands such as pastures, hayfields, and croplands, or any area with heavy vegetation cover.
  • Light to moderate grazing in parkland areas and light grazing in arid grasslands is tolerated.


  • Diet includes:
    • Beetles
    • Grasshoppers
    • Other insects and spiders picked off the ground and vegetation
    • Seeds

When Active

  • This species is migratory and is in Alberta from late April to mid-September.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behaviour

  • Sprague's pipits nest on the ground, where they prefer dense, grassy, and relatively tall vegetation.
  • Four- or five-egg clutches are typical, but clutches of six eggs have been reported.
  • Incubation, conducted exclusively by the female, lasts from 10 to 11 days.
  • The female is also primarily, if not exclusively, responsible for tending to the chicks.
Conservation and Management


Sprague's pipit are classified as Sensitive in the current General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Also see the Status of the Sprague's pipit in Alberta report at:

In a subsequent detailed status assessment, Alberta's Endangered Species Conservation Committee identified the Sprague's pipit as a Species of Special Concern—a species that without human intervention may soon become threatened with extinction. See information on the Endangered Species Conservation Committee and Species of Special Concern at:


  • Loss of native prairie and parkland habitats is a major threat to this bird.
  • Grazing cattle pose problems for the pipit because grazing can reduce habitat suitability and reproductive success through disturbance of nesting birds and trampling of nests.
  • Reduced fire frequency is a concern because the pipit evolved with frequent fires on the prairies; without fire, shrubs and other matted vegetation may take over.
  • Drought has been shown to decrease local populations of the Sprague's pipit.

Current management

  • Under Alberta's Wildlife Act, the Sprague's pipit is designated as a non-game animal. It is illegal to kill or harass individuals or disturb their nests at any time of the year.
  • The present official designation under Alberta's Wildlife Act and Regulation is non-game animal, which makes it illegal to kill, possess, buy, or sell the Sprague's pipit in Alberta.
  • Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) will respond to the ESCC recommendation by developing appropriate means of identifying, conserving, and managing this species. These measures include active monitoring and assessment of the Sprague's pipit population in Alberta.


Page Information

Updated: Jan 8, 2014