Anthus spragueiiSprague's pipit

Geographic Range

Anthus spragueii breeds in the northern prairies of the Great Plains, it’s northern limit is Saskatchewan, with it’s western limit near the Rocky Mountains. Anthus spragueii can also be found in the Dakotas, western Minnesota, Montana, and parts of British Columbia. Anthus spragueii winters in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and areas in Northern Mexico. It has also been observed in Michigan, western Ontario, Ohio, and Massachusetts. (Robbins and Dale, 1999)


Sprague's pipits prefer grassland with few shrubs and high visibility. They prefer native grasses like wheatgrass, June grass, blue grama, Canby blue, green needle grass, smooth brome, and crested wheat. (Robbins and Dale, 1999; "Anthus spragueii", 2001; Robbins and Dale, 1999)

  • Range elevation
    1307 to 1513 m
    4288.06 to 4963.91 ft

Physical Description

Lacking some of the brighter colors found in other pipits, Sprague's pipits are well camouflaged in prairie grasses. The plumage is a tan color highlighted by streaks of white and black, with white outer tail feathers. Sprague's pipits have pinkish yellow legs, dark eyes, and a small cream colored beak. Females show an increase in mass during the mating season. Young are covered in gray down upon hatching and have transparent skin. (Hutchins, et al., 2002; Robbins and Dale, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    22 to 26 g
    0.78 to 0.92 oz
  • Range length
    10 to 15 cm
    3.94 to 5.91 in
  • Range wingspan
    76 to 83 mm
    2.99 to 3.27 in
  • Average wingspan
    80 mm
    3.15 in


Little is known about the mating systems of Anthus spragueii. During mating season Sprague's pipits are monogamous. Other pipits are known to perform aerial displays to attract mates. (Hutchins, et al., 2002; Robbins and Dale, 1999)

In Saskatchewan Sprague's pipits take 3 to 4 months to raise a clutch. The season begins the second week of May and extends into July. Mates produce an average of 1.5 clutches per year with a clutch consisting of roughly 4.5 eggs. Nests are built on the ground in grassland near dense grass. Females collect dried grass 5 to 15 cm in length to weave into a nest. Sometimes females will build a canopy out of grass, creating a dome over the nest. The nest interior is approximately 7.6 cm in diameter, 3.8 cm in depth, with a 5.1 cm entrance hole. New nests are built for every brood. The incubation period is 13 to 14 days. There is little information about the age of sexual maturity in Sprague's pipits. (Robbins and Dale, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Sprague's pipits have an average of 1.5 clutches each breeding season.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season begins in early May and lasts until July.
  • Range eggs per season
    4 to 7
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    11 to 14 days
  • Range fledging age
    10 to 11 days
  • Range time to independence
    10 to 11 days

Females incubate the eggs over a 13 to 14 day period. During the pre-fledgling period (which lasts 10 to 11 days) Females provide all care. It has been suggested that males may take over care after young leave the nest. ("Anthus spragueii", 2001; Robbins and Dale, 1999)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • male


Little is known about the lifespan of Sprague's pipits. (Robbins and Dale, 1999)


Sprague's pipits walk or run while foraging or avoiding predators. Males establish and defend territories with aerial displays. They circle over the territory, singing briefly then quickly flapping their wings. At the end of this show they dive low to the ground then pull up to land. Sprague's pipits are solitary during migration and winter, but form flocks during mating season. Sprague's pipits will reach a rear leg above the wing to scratch the head and perform anting and dusting as self maintenance. (Robbins and Dale, 1999)

  • Range territory size
    0.001 to 0.05 km^2

Home Range

Sprague's pipits establish territories during the breeding season. Males establish their territory through an aerial display in which they circle over the territory. (Robbins and Dale, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Sprague's pipits generally only make calls that are short "squicks." Only males are known to sing, and only during their aerial display. Male songs are high pitched and last 2 to 3 seconds. Nestlings can make noises at age 10 to 11 days. (Robbins and Dale, 1999)

Food Habits

Sprague's pipits eat mostly arthropods during breeding season, and some seeds too. They forage in grasses on their own during the daytime. They eat spurge seeds, grasshoppers, crickets, false cinch bugs, weevils, stink bugs, ants, leaf beetles, beetles, and caterpillars. Females bring small invertebrates to the young to eat. (Robbins and Dale, 1999)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


Little is known about predators of Sprague's pipits, but carnivorous mammals, such as weasels, and snakes are suspected as predators of eggs and nestlings. Raptors may take fledglings and adults. (Robbins and Dale, 1999)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Broods of Sprague's pipits are parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds, but less so than other prairie-dwelling birds. They are also parasitized by the feather mites Proctophyllodes anthi and P. polyxenus. Sprague's pipits forages for insects and also feed on seeds. (Hutchins, et al., 2002)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Sprague's pipits have no known economic importance to humans, aside from their role as parts of healthy, prairie ecosystems. (Hutchins, et al., 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no adverse effects of Sprague's pipits on humans. (Hutchins, et al., 2002)

Conservation Status

Sprague's pipits are considered vulnerable because of a rapid population decline of about 32% that has been documented since the 1970's. The major threats to this species are considered habitat loss and degradation resulting from land conversion to agriculture. (IUCN, 2007)

Other Comments

According to The Birds of North America, Sprague's pipits are "one of the least-known birds in North America." Named after Isaac Sprague, who discovered these birds near Fort Union, N.D. in June of 1943. (Robbins and Dale, 1999)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Richard Javier (author), Kalamazoo College, Ann Fraser (editor, instructor), Kalamazoo College.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Arizona Game and Fish Dept. Anthus spragueii. ABPBM02060. Pheonix, AZ: Unpublished abstract compiled and edited by the Heritage Data Management System. 2001.

Hutchins, M., J. Jackson, W. Bock, D. Olendord. 2002. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2nd edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.

IUCN, 2007. "Anthus spragueii" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed May 18, 2007 at

Robbins, M., B. Dale. 1999. The Birds of North America. Philadelphia, PA: The Birds of North America, Inc..