Bird GuideNew World SparrowsGolden-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Zonotrichia atricapilla

At a Glance

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.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Low Concern
Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Tundra and Boreal Habitats, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flitter, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Apparently migrates at night. Tends to migrate late in fall and early in spring, with biggest numbers on wintering grounds from late October to early April.


6-7" (15-18 cm). Striking black head stripes of summer plumage (surrounding gold crown patch) give way to duller winter pattern; some drab young birds suggest female House Sparrow. Unlike White-crowned Sparrow, bill is mostly dark.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Gray, Tan, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Song consists of 3 descending plaintive notes sounding like oh, dear me. Calls are tseet and chink.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Whistle


Boreal scrub, spruce; in winter, forest edges, thickets, chaparral, gardens. Breeds in shrubby habitats of North and of high mountains, including willow thickets at edge of dry tundra, stunted spruce near treeline. Winters in many kinds of brushy habitats, from wild chaparral to parks and gardens. Winter habitat like that of White-crowned Sparrow, but tends to be in denser brush.



3-5. Creamy white to pale greenish, heavily spotted with reddish brown. Incubation is probably by female, and probably lasts 11-12 days. Male may bring food to the female while she is incubating.


Both parents feed the nestlings. Young probably leave nest at about 9 days.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on the ground, under or near dense thickets. Sometimes feeds up in shrubs or low trees. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.


Mostly seeds and insects. Diet in winter is mostly seeds of weeds and grasses, also some other plant material such as buds, flowers, newly sprouted shoots, and berries. Also eats some insects and spiders, probably more so in summer. Young are probably fed mostly insects.


Details of nesting behavior are not well known. Male sings from a prominent perch in summer to defend nesting territory. Nest site is usually on the ground, very well hidden under thickets of dwarf willow or other shrubs; typically placed in slight depression, so that rim of nest is nearly level with ground. Rarely placed a couple of feet up in a dense shrub. Nest is a bulky cup of grass, weeds, ferns, leaves, lined with fine grass and sometimes with animal hair.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Still common and widespread.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Golden-crowned Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Golden-crowned Sparrow

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.