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White-throated Sparrow

Common Name: White-throated Sparrow.

Scientific Name: Zonotrichia Albicollis.

What to look for?  Black-and-white-striped head. Bright white throat. And a bold, lemon-yellow patch above its eye! The White-throated Sparrow is large, full-bodied sparrow with a fairly prominent, dark bill. The upperparts are rusty brown and striped, while the underparts are grayish with some streak­ing. Its crown has alternating white and black lines. There are two white wingbars on its reddish-brown wings. The White-throated Sparrow has a long, narrow tail. And it has long legs.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You can find White-throated Sparrows around our trees, bushes and backyard feeders. They are typically here for several months each throughout the Spring and Fall. These birds spend much of their time foraging on the ground so look for them under your feeders. You will find them among groups of sparrows, Brown-headed Cowbirds and other birds.

How big are they? The White-throated Sparrow averages approximately 6 ¾ inches in length. And their wingspan is just over 8 ½ inches. They weigh in at just under one ounce.

What are their flight patterns? White-throated Sparrows take short flights between adjacent branches when foraging. And they fly with rapid wingbeats.

How else do they behave? White-throated Sparrows stay near the ground, scratching through leaves in search of food. They will often scratch backwards with both feet simultaneously ("double scratching"), then pounce forward at anything they have uncovered. They also toss leaves aside with flicks of the head. White-throated Sparrows typically hop rather than walk or run.  White-throated Sparrows sing distinctive songs frequently.

What’s for dinner? Mostly seeds and insects, but diet has variation by season. During breeding season, White-throated Sparrows feed heavily on insects. During winter, their diet is mostly seed from weeds and grasses as well as from bird feeders. In fall, the diet includes a variety of berries. In spring, they eat the tender buds, blossoms, and young seeds of oak, apple, maple, beech, and elm trees.

Where do they take up residence? White-throated Sparrows during summer reside in the forests across Canada, the northeastern U.S., and the northern Midwest. You can find these birds during winter in thickets, overgrown fields, parks, and woodsy suburbs. They will frequent backyards for birdseed.

When and where do they breed and nest? White-throated Sparrows do not breed in Illinois, but rather in the northern U.S. and in Canada. Nests are built on or just above the ground, usually under shrubs, grasses, or ferns or areas in clearings with dense ground vegetation. They may lay up to five eggs that will incubate for approximately two weeks. The young usually leave nest in around 10 days and are independent after another two weeks. They generally have one or two broods per year.

Where do they migrate? In Illinois, White-throated Sparrows are common migrants, tending to migrate relatively late in fall (November or December). They will return in March but restart a northern migration by May. And some of them (nonbreeders) are occasional winter residents. Those that migrate do mostly at night.

What is their conservation status? There is no concern. White-throated Sparrows are abundant. However, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, populations of White-throated Sparrows have declined throughout their range by about 35% over the last several decades. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 140 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? White-throated Sparrows sing a pretty, thin whistle. This song sounds like “Oh-sweet-canada-canada” – now they do spend time up north!  Here is a link to the sounds of the White-throated Sparrow.

Interesting Facts About the White-throated Sparrow:

  • The White-throated Sparrow comes in two color forms: white-crowned (reside in Illinois) and tan-crowned.

  • Scientific studies have shown that males of both color types prefer females with white stripes, but most females, whether tan-striped or white-striped, prefer the tan-striped males.

  • The White-throated Sparrow and the Dark-eyed Junco occasionally mate and produce hybrids, resulting in offspring that are grayish, dully marked White-throated Sparrows with white outer tail feathers.

  • The oldest recorded White-throated Sparrow was approximately 15 years old.

For more information on the White-throated 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, National Geographic, Indiana Audubon and Chicago Botanic Gardens.  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!

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