White-crowned SparrowZonotrichia leucophrys

adult, Eastern
Garth McElroy/VIREO
immature (1st winter)
Tom Vezo/VIREO
adult, Interior West
Dustin Huntington/VIREO
adult, Pacific coast
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
immature (1st winter)
Hugh P. Smith, Jr. & Susan C. Smith/VIREO
White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow

Description

6-7 1/2" (15-19 cm). Similar to White-throated Sparrow, but more slender, without white throat, and generally with a more erect posture. Crown has bold black and white stripes. Upperparts streaked, underparts clear pearly gray. Pink bill. Young birds similar, but crown stripes buff and dark brown, underparts washed with dull buff.

Voice

Short series of clear whistles followed by buzzy notes.

Listen

songs #4
songs #3
calls of large flock
songs #1
alarm chips
more calls
songs #2

Habitat

Nests in dense brush, especially near open grasslands; winters in open woods and gardens.

Range

Breeds from Alaska and Manitoba east to Labrador and Newfoundland, and south in western mountains to northern New Mexico and central California. Winters north to southern Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, and Maryland.

Discussion

The handsome White-crown is a favorite not only of bird-watchers but of laboratory scientists. Much of what we know about the physiology of bird migration has been learned from laboratory experiments with this species. The northern, northwestern, and mountain subspecies of White-crowned Sparrows have slightly different head patterns and songs. Song dialects vary locally as well. In the Arctic, where the sun does not set during the breeding season, these sparrows sing all night long; however, White-crowns farther south, in the Pacific Northwest, also sing frequently during the dark May nights. In the East, these birds are much less numerous than White-throated Sparrows, but flocks of White-throats often contain a few of these slender, elegant birds. Much of their feeding is done on the ground but, like White-throats, they will respond to a squeaking noise made by an observer by popping up to the top of a bush.

Nesting

3-5 pale green eggs, thickly spotted with brown, in a bulky cup of bark strips, grass, and twigs, lined with grass and hair, on or near the ground.

Similar Species

adult, California

Song Sparrow

5-7" (13-18 cm). Heavy brown streaking on white underparts, with prominent central breast spot (sometimes lacking in juveniles).

adult (bright)

White-throated Sparrow

6-7" (15-18 cm). Upperparts streaked, underparts clear gray. There are 2 color forms, one with black and white head stripes, the other with tan and black head stripes.

adult, nonbreeding

Golden-crowned Sparrow

6-7" (15-18 cm). Similar to White-crowned Sparrow. Male's gold crown bordered by wide black cap. Dusky bill. Brown above, with unstreaked gray breast, cheek, and collar; 2 white wing bars.

adult, breeding

Harris's Sparrow

7 1/2" (19 cm). Adult has black crown, throat, and chest; pink bill; gray face; brown back, wings, and tail; and white abdomen with spotted or streaked sides.

Vireo

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