White-throated SparrowZonotrichia albicollis

adult (bright)
Robert Royse/VIREO
immature (1st winter)
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult (bright)
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult (drab)
Garth McElroy/VIREO
immature (1st winter)
John McKean/VIREO

Description

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.

Habitat

Thickets, brush, undergrowth of conifer and mixed woodlands. Breeds in zone of coniferous and mixed forest, mainly in openings having dense thickets of deciduous shrubs, such as around ponds, clearings, edges, roadsides, second growth. Winters in areas with dense low cover, including forest undergrowth and edges, well-vegetated suburbs and parks.

Feeding Diet

Mostly seeds and insects. Feeds heavily on insects during breeding season, including damselflies, ants, wasps, true bugs, beetles, flies, caterpillars, and others, plus spiders, millipedes, and snails. Winter diet is mostly seeds of weeds and grasses. Also eats many berries, especially in fall. Young are fed mostly insects.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on ground under or close to dense thickets. Often scratches briefly in leaf-litter with both feet. Also forages up in shrubs and low trees, mainly in summer.

Nesting

The two color morphs (with tan-striped and white-striped heads) may be either male or female; adults almost always mate with the opposite color morph. Male sings to defend nesting territory. Nest site usually on ground, well hidden by low shrubs (such as blueberry), grass, or ferns. Sometimes nests above ground in shrubs, brushpiles, or low trees, rarely up to 10' high. Nest (built by female) is open cup made of grass, twigs, weeds, pine needles, lined with fine grass, rootlets, animal hair. Eggs: 4-5, sometimes 3-6, rarely 2-7. Pale blue or greenish blue, marked with reddish brown and lavender. Incubation is by female only, about 11-14 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young usually leave nest 8-9 days after hatching, are tended by parents for at least 2 more weeks. 1-2 broods per year. A few differences between color morphs: White-striped males are usually more aggressive and do more singing than tan-striped males. White-striped females also sing, but tan-striped females usually do not. Pairs involving a tan-striped male and white-striped female usually form more quickly than those of the opposite combination. Tan-striped adults tend to feed their young more often than white-striped adults.

Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-6, rarely 2-7. Pale blue or greenish blue, marked with reddish brown and lavender. Incubation is by female only, about 11-14 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young usually leave nest 8-9 days after hatching, are tended by parents for at least 2 more weeks. 1-2 broods per year. A few differences between color morphs: White-striped males are usually more aggressive and do more singing than tan-striped males. White-striped females also sing, but tan-striped females usually do not. Pairs involving a tan-striped male and white-striped female usually form more quickly than those of the opposite combination. Tan-striped adults tend to feed their young more often than white-striped adults.

Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young usually leave nest 8-9 days after hatching, are tended by parents for at least 2 more weeks. 1-2 broods per year. A few differences between color morphs: White-striped males are usually more aggressive and do more singing than tan-striped males. White-striped females also sing, but tan-striped females usually do not. Pairs involving a tan-striped male and white-striped female usually form more quickly than those of the opposite combination. Tan-striped adults tend to feed their young more often than white-striped adults.

Conservation

Widespread and common. Surveys suggest slight declines in total numbers during recent decades.

Range

Migrates mostly at night. Tends to migrate relatively late in fall, moving south gradually toward wintering areas.

Listen

songs #1
songs #2
two call types
early autumn subsong & calls

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