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

Description

In most parts of the West, the smartly patterned White-crown is very common at one season or another: summering in the mountains and the north, wintering in the southwestern lowlands, present all year along the coast. Winter birds usually live in flocks, rummaging on the ground near brushy thickets, perching in the tops of bushes when a birder approaches too closely. In the East, the White-crowned Sparrow is generally an uncommon migrant or wintering bird. Different populations of White-crowns often have local "dialects" in their songs, and these have been intensively studied by scientists in some regions.

Habitat

Boreal scrub, forest edges, thickets, chaparral, gardens, parks; in winter, also farms and desert washes. Breeding habitat varies, but always in brushy places, such as dwarf willow thickets at edge of tundra, bushy clearings in northern forest, scrub just below timberline in mountains, chaparral and well-wooded suburbs along Pacific Coast. In winter, also found in hedgerows, overgrown fields, desert washes.

Feeding Diet

Mostly seeds, other vegetable matter, and insects. Apparently feeds mostly on seeds in winter, mainly those of weeds and grasses. Feeds on other vegetable matter at various seasons, including buds, flowers, moss capsules, willow catkins, berries, and small fruits. Also eats many insects and spiders, especially in summer. Young are fed mostly insects.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly while hopping and running on ground. Sometimes feeds up in low shrubs, and occasionally will make short flights to catch insects in mid-air. Except during nesting season, usually forages in flocks.

Nesting

In southernmost coastal populations, pairs may remain together all year on permanent territories. Elsewhere, males arrive on nesting grounds before females, defend territories by singing. Nest: In North, site is usually on ground at base of shrub or grass clump, often placed in shallow depression in ground; along West Coast, nest often placed a few feet up in shrubs. Nest (built by female) is open cup made of grass, twigs, weeds, rootlets, strips of bark, lined with fine grass, feathers, animal hair. Eggs: 4-5, sometimes 3, rarely 2-6. Creamy white to pale greenish, heavily spotted with reddish brown. Incubation is by female only, 11-14 days, usually 12. Young: Both parents feed nestlings, although female may do more at first. Young leave the nest about 7-12 days after hatching, with those in far north tending to leave earlier than those farther south. Male may care for fledglings while female begins 2nd nesting attempt. 1 brood per year in far North, 2-3 (or even 4) farther south.

Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3, rarely 2-6. Creamy white to pale greenish, heavily spotted with reddish brown. Incubation is by female only, 11-14 days, usually 12. Young: Both parents feed nestlings, although female may do more at first. Young leave the nest about 7-12 days after hatching, with those in far north tending to leave earlier than those farther south. Male may care for fledglings while female begins 2nd nesting attempt. 1 brood per year in far North, 2-3 (or even 4) farther south.

Young

Both parents feed nestlings, although female may do more at first. Young leave the nest about 7-12 days after hatching, with those in far north tending to leave earlier than those farther south. Male may care for fledglings while female begins 2nd nesting attempt. 1 brood per year in far North, 2-3 (or even 4) farther south.

Conservation

Widespread and common.

Range

Some populations on Pacific Coast are permanent residents; those from northern and mountain regions are strongly migratory. Mostly migrates at night. On average, females winter farther south than males.

Listen

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

Similar Species

adult, California

Song Sparrow

Very widespread in North America, this melodious sparrow is among the most familiar birds in some areas, such as the Northeast and Midwest. At times it is rather skulking in behavior, hiding in the thickets, seen only when it flies from bush to bush with a typical pumping motion of its tail. Usually, however, sheer numbers make it conspicuous. Song Sparrows vary in appearance over their wide range, from large dark birds on the Aleutians to small pale ones in the desert Southwest.

adult (bright)

White-throated Sparrow

A common winter bird of eastern woodlots, shuffling about on the ground in loose flocks, often coming to bird feeders that are placed close enough to the shelter of thickets. It is also widespread in the West in winter, but in much smaller numbers. In summer, White-throated Sparrows sing their clear whistles in northern forests. Adults may have head stripes of either white or tan, and scientists have found some odd differences in behavior between these two color morphs.

adult, nonbreeding

Golden-crowned Sparrow

A specialty of the far West is this big sparrow. Golden-crowned Sparrows nest in Alaska and western Canada; in summer, open scrubby areas near treeline there may resound with their sad, minor-key whistles. In fall, the birds move south along the Pacific slope. They are common in winter from Vancouver to San Diego, with flocks foraging on the ground under dense thickets, often mixed with equal numbers of White-crowned Sparrows.

adult, breeding

Harris's Sparrow

This big, elegant sparrow is a bird of the heartland, nesting in north-central Canada, wintering mainly on the southern Great Plains. Because of its remote habitat and shy behavior in summer, its nest was not discovered until 1931, long after those of most North American birds. Harris's Sparrow is more easily observed in winter on the southern plains. Flocks feed on the ground near brushy places, flying up when disturbed to perch in the tops of thickets, giving sharp callnotes.

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