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Savannah Sparrow princeps subspecies

Management plan for the Savannah Sparrow,

princeps subspecies

(Passerculus sandwichensisprinceps),

in Canada

 Savannah Sparrow, princeps subspecies

October 2006

About the Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)? 

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003, and one of its purposes is “to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.” 

What is a species of special concern?

Under SARA, a species of special concern is a wildlife species that could become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats. Species of special concern are included in the SARA List of Wildlife Species at Risk.

What is a management plan?

Under SARA, a management plan is an action-oriented planning document that identifies the conservation activities and land use measures needed to ensure, at a minimum, that a species of special concern does not become threatened or endangered. For many species, the ultimate aim of the management plan will be to alleviate human threats and remove the species from the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. The plan sets goals and objectives, identifies threats, and indicates the main areas of activities to be undertaken to address those threats.

Management plan development is mandated under Sections 65–72 of SARA (

A management plan has to be developed within three years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Five years is allowed for those species that were initially listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

Directions set in the management plan will enable jurisdictions, communities, land users, and conservationists to implement conservation activities that will have preventative or restorative benefits. Cost-effective measures to prevent the species from becoming further at risk should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty and may, in fact, result in significant cost savings in the future.

The series

This series presents the management plans prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as plans are updated.

To learn more 

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and conservation initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry ( the web site of the Recovery Secretariat (

Recommended citation:

Environment Canada. 2006. Management plan for the Savannah Sparrow, princeps subspecies (Passerculus sandwichensis princeps), in Canada. Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. iv + 19 pp.

 Additional copies:  

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry ( 

Cover illustration: Ipswich Sparrow by Lloyd Fitzgerald © 1974. Permission for use was provided by Wayne Stobo.

Également disponible en français sous le titre

« Plan de gestion du Bruant des prés de la sous-espèce princeps (Passerculus sandwichensis princeps) au Canada »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2006. All rights reserved.

ISBN 0-662-44380-2

Cat. no. En3-5/1-2006E-PDF

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


This management plan has been prepared in cooperation with the jurisdictions responsible for Savannah Sparrow, princeps subspecies. Environment Canada has reviewed and accepts this document as its management plan for the Savannah Sparrow, princeps subspecies, as required under the Species at Risk Act. This management plan also constitutes advice to other jurisdictions and organizationsthat may be involved in recovering the species.

Success in the conservation of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this plan and will not be achieved by Environment Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of the Environment invites all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Environment Canada in supporting and implementing this plan for the benefit of the Savannah Sparrow, princeps subspeciesand Canadian society as a whole. The Minister will report on progress within five years.


Environment Canada

Government of Nova Scotia


Andrew G. Horn

Department of Biology

Dalhousie University

Halifax, Nova Scotia

B3H 4J1


The author especially thanks Andrew Boyne of the Canadian Wildlife Service for the opportunity to prepare this report and for guidance throughout its preparation. Andrew Boyne, Ian McLaren, Phil Taylor, Wayne Stobo, Julie McKnight, and Doug Bliss provided helpful comments on previous drafts. The Environmental Assessment Section of Environment Canada – Atlantic Region provided wording for sections related to environmental assessment. Invaluable unpublished information was provided by Marty Leonard, Zoe Lucas, Ian McLaren, Steve Mockford, Dave Patriquin, Jim Rising, and Bob Zink. Gerry Forbes, Zoe Lucas, and Ian McLaren deserve particular thanks for their tireless support of efforts to understand this bird and the island on which it breeds. Thanks also to Canadian Wildlife Service, Habitat Conservation Section for their advice and Canadian Wildlife Service, Recovery Section for their advice and efforts in preparing this document for posting.


A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making.

Management planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that management plans may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the management plan itself, but are also summarized below.

This management plan will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the conservation of the Ipswich Sparrows. The potential for the plan to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species was considered. The SEA concluded that this plan will clearly benefit the environment and will not entail any significant adverse effects. The reader should refer to the following sections of the document in particular:  Species’ background (section 2); and Recommended approach/scale for managing the species (section 3.3).


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). It was developed in cooperation or consultation with:

  • the provincial jurisdiction in which the species occurs -- Nova Scotia;
  • Aboriginal groups -- the Nova Scotia Native Council and the Confederacy of Mainland Mi'kmaq;
  • environmental non-government groups -- the Sable Island Preservation Trust and the Nova Scotia Bird Society;
  • industry stakeholders -- Canada–Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board; and
  • landowners -- Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

This will be the first management plan posted on the SARA Public Registry.


The Savannah Sparrow, princeps subspecies (Passerculus sandwichensis princeps), also known as the Ipswich Sparrow, is listed as a Species of Special Concern in Canada. A morphologically and behaviourally distinct population of the widespread Savannah Sparrow, it nests almost exclusively on Sable Island, 150 km southeast of mainland Nova Scotia, and winters in coastal dunes from Nova Scotia to Florida. Censuses on the breeding grounds since 1967 have estimated an adult population varying between 1250 and 3400 individuals, although different census methods yielded 5962 individuals in 1998. The bird’s reproductive rate is very high; breeding starts in the second year, adult survival rates are fairly high for a migratory passerine (28–42%), fledging success is very high (72–84%), and pairs raise two to three clutches per season. The population is not currently under any known threat, but its restricted distribution would make it vulnerable to localized threats that may arise. In particular, a temporary population crash of about 50% appears to have occurred in the late 1970s, probably because of harsh weather during migration and wintering. Such crashes may introduce new factors as significant threats, including predation, human activity, habitat loss, chance demographic effects, and loss of genetic information.

This population probably should never be down-listed, because of its limited distribution. The specific goal of this management plan is to maintain the breeding population of Ipswich Sparrows at the current level. The objectives of this plan are to:

                     i.           Maintain the breeding population at the current level, allowing that the population may decline below the target minimum following particularly harsh winters;

                   ii.           Maintain the current amount and composition of breeding habitat;

                  iii.           Remove or reduce threats to Ipswich Sparrows and their breeding and wintering habitat.

Actions to be undertaken to achieve these objectives include 1) monitoring the breeding population; 2) monitoring the breeding habitat; 3) examining the conservation status of Sable Island; 4) ensuring regulatory compliance on Sable Island; 5) ensuring a precautionary approach to projects with potential impacts on Ipswich Sparrows; 6) conserving wintering Ipswich Sparrows and their habitat; and 7) implementing education and communication programs.

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