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Golden-crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia atricapilla ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The large, handsome Golden-crowned Sparrow is a common bird of weedy or shrubby lowlands and city edges in winter along the Pacific coast. Though it’s familiar to many during winter, Golden-crowned Sparrows vanish for the summer into tundra and shrublands from British Columbia to Alaska, where little is known of its breeding habits. Gold-rush miners took cold comfort from this bird’s melancholy song, which seems to reflect the bleak beauty of its surroundings.

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Songs

Golden-crowned Sparrows have a song of several clear whistles, sliding downward in a melancholy phrase that’s sometimes described as “I’m so tired” or “oh, dear me.” Often, they add a trill to the end. Males sing from the treetops, rooftops, and the tops and edges of shrub thickets, mainly in the early breeding season but also at other times of year.

Calls

Calls include a loud chink alarm call, three kinds of feeding calls (chip, churr, and plear plear plear) and a flat tchup.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Golden-crowned Sparrows will eat seeds from ground feeders as well as fruits, buds, and flowers from garden plants. Be watchful, though, because they might also nibble on your cabbages, beets, and peas.

Find This Bird

Between fall and spring, look for this large sparrow in shrublands and weedy fields of the West Coast. It might be hopping around on the ground while scratching through leaf litter, perching to eat seeds in weedy vegetation, sometimes singing even in winter. To see this bird during summer, you’ll need to visit the wilds of Alaska and far western Canada.