top of page

White-crowned Sparrow

Common Name: White-crowned Sparrow.

Scientific Name: Zonotrichia Leucophrys.

What to look for?  White head – i.e., “white-crowned – with distinct black stripes. One look at these bold head stripes, and you’ll know it can only be a White-crowned Sparrow. They are medium-sized sparrows. The upperparts of its body are brown-streaked, while its underparts are plain gray. There is a small white patch on their throat. Wings are brown with two pale bars.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? White-crowned Sparrows are busy visitors to backyard feeders – or the ground below. You will find these birds hopping across the ground and through low foliage doing their “double scratching” foraging for food.

How big are they? The White-crowned Sparrow averages just over six inches in length. And their wingspan is nine inches. They weigh in at around one ounce.

What are their flight patterns? While you are more likely to see a White-crowned Sparrow hopping along the ground, they will be seen on short flights with rapid wing beats. Their flight pattern is “flap-bound” where they alternate several rapid wing beats (“flap”) with wings drawn to sides (“bound”).

How else do they behave? White-crowned Sparrows hop across the ground and through low foliage. You may see them “double-scratching,” which involves a quick hop backwards to turn over leaves followed by a forward hop and pounce.

What’s for dinner? White-crowned Sparrows are opportunistic feeders. Their diet consists primarily of seeds and buds, but may also include grass, fruits, and insects. They forage 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.

Where do they take up residence? White-crowned Sparrows are common each winter across North America. The key habitat features of their breeding territories include grass, bare ground for foraging and dense shrubs or small conifers thick enough to provide a roost and conceal a nest, standing or running water, and sometimes tall coniferous trees.

When and where do they breed and nest? White-crowned Sparrow Breeds from Alaska and Manitoba east to Labrador and Newfoundland, and south in western mountains to northern New Mexico and central California. Nests in dense brush, especially near open grasslands. raises up to 4 broods per year in the south.

Where do they migrate? White-crowned Sparrows that breed in Alaska and arctic Canada spend the winter over much of the continental U.S. and Mexico. As with many migrating birds, they mostly travel at night. Spring migration occurs from mid-March to mid-May; while fall migration occurs from early September to mid-November.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the White-crowned Sparrow has seen slight decreases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 79 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? The song of the White-crowned Sparrow is one of the most-studied sounds in all of animal behavior. Their song is recognizable by the sweet, whistling introduction, a succession of jumbled whistles, and a buzz or trill near the end. Here is a link to the sounds of the White-crowned Sparrow.

Interesting Facts About the White-crowned Sparrow:

  • A young male White-crowned Sparrow learns the basics of the song it will sing as an adult during the first two or three months of its life.

  • A migrating White-crowned Sparrow was once tracked moving 300 miles in a single night. Alaskan White-crowned Sparrows migrate about 2,600 miles to winter in Southern California.

  • White-crowned Sparrows will share their territories with Fox Sparrows, but chase Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos until they leave.

  • The oldest recorded White-crowned Sparrow was approximately 13 years old.

  • The White-crowned Sparrow is one of the best-studied songbirds in North America. Much of our knowledge of bird song and development is based on studies of this species.

  • Four of the five subspecies are migratory. The sedentary race lives in a very narrow band along the California coast.

  • A group of sparrows has many collective nouns, including a "crew", "flutter", "meinie", "quarrel", and "ubiquity" of sparrows.

For more information on the White-crowned Sparrow and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society and National Geographic.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

bottom of page