A Small Miracle on Our Tiny Prairie

June 9, 2016

A Henslow’s sparrow calls to the setting sun, and its nesting mate, only 50 feet out our back door in the tallgrass prairie we planted four years ago. At that time I looked forward to seeing the Indian grass, big bluestem, and native forbs from our deck, but I never imagined I would see a nesting pair of Henslow’s sparrows. After I made this image this evening, I wished I would have been holding a microphone, just so I could drop it in the tall grass! That’s how excited I was to finally verify that we had a nesting pair, and not just a few birds on a migration layover.

Some of you might be thinking, “Why is Danny so excited about a couple of nesting sparrows?” I’ll explain by citing some information from Cornell University’s website:

The Henslow’s Sparrow is on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds’ Watch List, which includes bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats. They are listed as Endangered in seven states, as well as Canada. The Henslow’s Sparrow has been identified as the highest priority for grassland bird conservation in eastern and midwestern North America by Partners in Flight (PIF), a cooperative effort of many organizations dedicated to bird conservation.

All of the attention to this bird is due to declining numbers as a result of habitat loss, specifically native grasslands. Little did I know that our prairie of less than five acres would eventually contribute an ever so tiny boost to the survival of this threatened songbird.

While the Henslow’s sparrow is new to our prairie, it is not a new species to me. I’ve photographed adults and young in the restored, tallgrass prairies of Shaw Nature Reserve for several years now. They are a hoot to watch as they jump up on a stem and let loose their earsplitting two-note call—tsi-lick! The calls of most birds with such a high-pitched voices fall silent on my worn out ears, but I’ve never had trouble hearing the Henslow’s sparrow. Henslow’s are just gorgeous with their large, flat heads, big eyes, and rufous/black coloration on their wings.


Another image of the male half of our resident pair of Henslow’s sparrows. I also have some nice video of him calling “Tsi-lick.” I’ve found Henslow’s somewhat approachable, at least with a super-telephoto lens, but as always, I like to keep my distance so as not to aggravate the little critters. By the way, Henslow’s are among the weakest flyers of any songbirds I have photographed.

I remember when I first began working with the Missouri Department of Conservation to convert one of our fescue fields to tallgrass prairie. It wasn’t long before I received a letter from Quail Forever, saying that they would be donating along with MDC for the restoration. I actually balked at accepting the QF funds, stating that I would feel guilty taking the money because a prairie of less than 5 acres surely couldn’t contribute much to quail recovery, or any other species for that matter. The Quail Forever person told me I was wrong and every little bit would help. Now I know for sure that he was right.

Thanks for looking,


Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery and Print Information:  DannyBrownPhotography

4 comments on “A Small Miracle on Our Tiny Prairie”

  1. ” somewhat approachable, at least with a super-telephoto lens”…ha, ha! Thank you for the great post and your part in conserving the treasures we have.

    • I should elucidate that a person doesn’t have to get to close to a bird if he/she is using a supertelephoto lens.

  2. Fabulous post and story. Way to go, Danny.

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