Living Bird Magazine
Golden-crowned SparrowZonotrichia atricapilla
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Chingolo Coronidorado (Spanish)
- Bruant à couronne dorée (French)
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 out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- This sparrow is one of the least known of our songbirds, particularly on its northern breeding grounds. It has been the subject of only a few laboratory and field studies, so most of what we know about it comes from scattered notes in scientific journals.
- Miners in the Yukon at the turn of the twentieth century woefully referred to the Golden-crowned Sparrow as the “no gold here” bird, because its song resembled that depressing phrase. They also interpreted its song to say “I’m so tired,” prompting them to dub the bird “Weary Willie.”
- The Golden-crowned Sparrow arrives earlier and stays longer on its California wintering grounds than almost any other bird species.
- When day length increases in the spring, the Golden-crowned Sparrow detects the change through photoreceptors (light-sensitive cells). Its body responds by putting on fat and getting an urge to migrate.
- The oldest Golden-crowned Sparrow on record was at least 10 years, 6 months old. It was caught by a bird bander in California and released.