Sprague’s Pipit

Anthus spragueii
Range Map

Perhaps more than any other ecosystem in North America, prairie grasslands have suffered degradation and neglect. Once prairies dominated the mid-west from Texas to central Canada. These vast tall-grass ranges hosted immense herds of Bison, Elk, and Pronghorn. Even creatures we now think of as dwellers of mountain wilderness regions, such as Bighorn Sheep and Grizzly Bears wandered here and participated in spectacular migrations.

It did not take long after Europeans discovered this seemingly infinite expanse of biological richness, that they began a war of destruction. First to disappear were the Bison, who were slaughtered by the millions. Then, by military conquest and agricultural development, the ranges were whittled into smaller and smaller sections. Even during the 1800s, when the earliest efforts to conserve natural lands and resources, these prairies and grasslands did not garner the attention required to correct the wayward course we had embarked on. I guess it was a harder ‘sell’ than the mountains and canyons such as Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Sprague’s Pipits are humble creatures who depend on these prairie habitats. Not surprisingly, their population has fallen dramatically. Surveys conducted between 1966 and 2015 showed these birds declined in numbers by almost 80%.

Taxonomists regard the Sprague’s Pipit as monotypic (no subspecies).

In southern Saskatchewan, Canada is developing a sanctuary called Grasslands National Park, in an effort to halt the demise of prairie habitats. I visited and spent a week at this location, and met Sprague’s Pipits and several other grassland species in 2022.

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