Photo: Dustin Huntington/Vireo

White-crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia leucophrys

Conservation status Widespread and common.
Family New World Sparrows
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.
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.
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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.


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.

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.


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.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

Songs and Calls
Short series of clear whistles followed by buzzy notes.