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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

White-crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia leucophrys ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

White-crowned Sparrows appear each winter over much of North America to grace our gardens and favorite trails (they live in parts of the West year-round). The smart black-and-white head, pale beak, and crisp gray breast combine for a dashing look – and make it one of the surest sparrow identifications in North America. Watch for flocks of these sparrows scurrying through brushy borders and overgrown fields, or coax them into the open with backyard feeders. As spring approaches, listen out for this bird’s thin, sweet whistle.

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Songs

The song of the White-crowned Sparrow Is one of the most-studied sounds in all of animal behavior. Different subspecies across the country sing clearly different songs, but they’re all recognizable by the sweet, whistling introduction, a succession of jumbled whistles, and a buzz or trill near the end. Songs last 2-3 seconds. Females sing only rarely.

Calls

White-crowned Sparrows have about 10 different calls. The most frequently heard include a sharp pink, lower-pitched than the White-throated Sparrow’s call. It’s usually made by males or as an alarm call near the nest. They also make a harsh, rasping call used by sparrows during altercations.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

White-crowned Sparrows come to feeders for sunflower and other kinds of seeds – though they may be more likely to stay on the ground eating seeds dropped by other birds. Making a brush pile in your yard is another good way to encourage this species to spend more time in your yard.

Find This Bird

The White-crowned Sparrow is a winter bird across much of the U.S (exceptions are the West Coast and mountains of the West). Start looking for these birds to arrive sometime in September, and they’ll be in fields, along roadsides, in low foliage at trail edges, or hopping around the margins of your yard until March or April.

Get Involved

Keep track of the White-crowned Sparrows at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

What's That Sparrow? ID tips from the Great Backyard Bird Count

Life in the City: How does urban stress affect birds?

Enhance your yard for sparrows and other birds. Visit our web pages on attracting birds.

Top 10 Ways to Help Birds in Cities

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Free downloadable "Common Feeder Birds" poster from Project FeederWatch (PDF)

White-crowned Sparrow from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1968)