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White-throated Sparrow

Zonotrichia albicollis ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Crisp facial markings make the White-throated Sparrow an attractive bird as well as a hopping, flying anatomy lesson. There’s the black eyestripe, the white crown and supercilium, the yellow lores, the white throat bordered by a black whisker, or malar stripe. They’re also a great entrée into the world of birdsong, with their pretty, wavering whistle of Oh-sweet-canada. These forest sparrows breed mostly across Canada, but they’re familiar winter birds across most of eastern and southern North America and California.

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Keys to identification Help

Sparrows
Sparrows
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The White-throated Sparrow is a large, full-bodied sparrow with a fairly prominent bill, rounded head, long legs, and long, narrow tail.

  • Color Pattern

    White-throated Sparrows are brown above and gray below with a striking head pattern. The black-and-white-striped head is augmented by a bright white throat and yellow between the eye and the bill, which is gray. You’ll also see a less boldly marked form, known as “tan-striped,” with a buff-on-brown face pattern instead of white-on-black.

  • Behavior

    White-throated Sparrows stay near the ground, scratching through leaves in search of food, often in flocks. You may see them low in bushes as well, particularly in spring when they eat fresh buds. White-throated Sparrows sing their distinctive songs frequently, even in winter.

  • Habitat

    Look for White-throated Sparrows in woods, at forest edges, in the regrowth that follows logging or forest fires, at pond and bog edges, and in copses near treeline. In winter you can find these birds in thickets, overgrown fields, parks, and woodsy suburbs. They readily come to backyards for birdseed.

Range Map Help

White-throated Sparrow Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult white-striped

    White-throated Sparrow

    Adult white-striped
    • White throat and head stripes
    • Yellow lores
    • Gray face and breast
    • Streaked nape
    • © William Jobes, Bucks Co, Pennsylvania, January 2009
  • Adult white-striped

    White-throated Sparrow

    Adult white-striped
    • White throat and head stripes
    • Yellow lores (between bill and eye)
    • Gray face and unstreaked breast
    • Streaked brown back, wings, and tail
    • Gray bill
    • © Byard Miller, Pittsburg, New Hampshire, June 2008
  • Adult tan-striped

    White-throated Sparrow

    Adult tan-striped
    • Often-seen alternate form has tan head stripes
    • Still has white throat and yellow lores
    • Often shows indistinct dark spot on breast
    • © Jim Paris, October 2008
  • Adult

    White-throated Sparrow

    Adult
    • White throat, white or tan head stripes
    • Yellow lores (between bill and eye)
    • Gray breast, often with dull darker mottling
    • Streaked nape, gray bill
    • © wreckingball34, Morris Co, New Jersey, January 2007
  • Adult tan-striped

    White-throated Sparrow

    Adult tan-striped
    • Often-seen alternate form has tan head stripes
    • Still has white throat patch and yellow lores
    • Streaked brown back, wings, and tail
    • Gray breast, often with dull darker mottling
    • © Jim Paris, October 2008
  • Adult tan-striped

    White-throated Sparrow

    Adult tan-striped
    • White throat
    • Tan head stripes
    • Yellow lores
    • Gray breast, often with dull darker mottling
    • Gray bill
    • © Debbie McKenzie, September 2008
  • Adult white-striped

    White-throated Sparrow

    Adult white-striped
    • White throat and head stripes
    • Yellow lores
    • Streaked brown back, wings, and tail
    • Gray breast, often with dull darker mottling
    • Brown sides and flanks
    • © wreckingball34, New Jersey, January 2007
  • Adult tan-striped

    White-throated Sparrow

    Adult tan-striped
    • White throat
    • Tan head stripes
    • Yellow lores
    • Streaked brown back, rufous wings, white spotted wingbars
    • Brown sides and flanks with very faint streaking
    • © Marshall Faintich, Nellysford, Virginia, February 2008

Similar Species

  • Adult

    White-crowned Sparrow

    Adult
    • Similar to adult White-throated Sparrow
    • No yellow lores and no white throat patch
    • Orange or pink bill
    • Clear gray cheek, nape, and breast; browner flanks
    • Bold black and white head stripes with wide white middle stripe
    • © Linda Williams, Liberty, Missouri, February 2008
  • Juveniles

    White-crowned Sparrow

    Juveniles
    • Similar to immature or tan-striped adult White-throated Sparrow
    • Clear gray nape and breast; browner flanks
    • Orange or pink bill
    • No yellow lores or white throat patch
    • © Darin Ziegler, Colorado Springs, Colorado, October 2008
  • Adult eastern form

    Song Sparrow

    Adult eastern form
    • Somewhat similar to immature or tan-striped adult White-throated Sparrow
    • Much more heavily streaked on underparts
    • Grayish eyebrow, no yellow lores
    • © Ed Schneider, White Creek, Tennessee, October 2008
  • Juvenile

    Golden-crowned Sparrow

    Juvenile
    • Similar to immature or tan-striped adult White-throated Sparrow
    • Occurs only along Pacific Coast
    • Yellowish crown, very faint eyestripe, gray throat
    • Head not nearly as strongly marked as White-throated Sparrow
    • Clear gray breast (not striped or mottled)
    • © katnor1, San Francisco, California, February 2009

Similar Species

Adult White-crowned Sparrows have no yellow on the head and no white throat patch. Immature and “tan-striped” White-throated Sparrows can resemble immature White-crowned Sparrows, but usually have faint streaking on the breast and yellow lores. Golden-crowned Sparrows have an unmarked gray throat and yellow in the crown. Song Sparrows can resemble “tan-striped” White-throated Sparrows, but are much more heavily streaked below and no yellow on the face.

Backyard Tips

White-throated Sparrows readily visit feeders or peck at fallen seeds beneath them. They feed on millet as well as sunflower seeds. If you make a brush pile in your yard it will give White-throated Sparrows a place to take cover in between trips out into your yard to feed.

Find This Bird

Look for White-throated Sparrows on the ground in woods and at brushy edges. In winter these birds often forage in large flocks and they sometimes make themselves easier to find by singing their easily recognizable, whistled song. With a bit more practice you can recognize their sharp chip note, often given by an alert bird in a conspicuous perch. White-throated Sparrows often come to investigate if you make pishing sounds.

Get Involved

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

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

Explore sounds and video of White-throated Sparrows from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library archive

Enhance your yard for sparrows and other birds. To get started, visit our web pages on attracting birds.

Learn more about bird photography in our Building Skills section. Then contribute your images to the Birdshare flickr site, which helps supply All About Birds and our other websites with photos.

You Might Also Like

eBird Occurrence Maps, White-throated Sparrow

Find in-depth information on White-throated Sparrows and all of North America's breeding birds for as little as $5 in The Birds of North America Online (Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists' Union).