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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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Songs

White-throated Sparrows sing a pretty, thin whistle that sounds like Oh-sweet-canada-canada or Old-Sam-Peabody-Peabody. The whistles are even but typically move slightly up or down in pitch by the second or third note. The whole song lasts about 4 seconds. White-throated Sparrows sing often during the breeding season, even in the middle of the day, and on their winter range as well. Males of both forms sing, and so does the “white-striped” female. “Tan-striped” females sing very rarely.

Calls

The main call of the White-throated Sparrow is a sharp, explosive, chink, often given by an agitated bird with crown feathers raised, flicking its tail. It’s an alarm call often given near a nest or when a predator or other threat has been spotted. A two-parted chip-up is a sign of aggression between two birds or given when adults arrive at the nest. White-throated Sparrows also make a trill that can be up to 2 seconds long. Females do this as part of courtship; males sometimes use trills to signal aggression as they push their head forward and flutter their wings. Flock members make a high, level seep.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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.

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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).