Bird GuideNew World SparrowsWhite-crowned Sparrow

At a Glance

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.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Coasts and Shorelines, Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains, Tundra and Boreal Habitats, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flitter, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


6-7 1/2" (15-19 cm). Usually grayer than White-throated Sparrow, with pink or yellow bill. Crown stripes black and white on adults, chestnut and gray in first winter. Pattern in front of eye varies with range.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Gray, Pink, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Short series of clear whistles followed by buzzy notes.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Trill, Whistle


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.



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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Widespread and common.

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 White-crowned Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the White-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.

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