Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys


The White-crowned sparrow breeds throughout much of Northern Canada and Alaska, as well as British Columbia, Western Alberta, and can be found in the states of Washington, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and California. Four out of the five sub-species migrate south to winter throughout much of the U.S. and Northern Mexico.


General: The white-crowned sparrow is a large sparrow with a long tail. These birds typically weigh between 25-29 grams and are around 16cm long.

Adult Male: Bold black-and-white stripes on the head and pale pink or yellow bill, clean gray throat and breast, with a gray face and nape.

Adult female: Same as male.

Juvenile Male: Head striped gray and reddish, back and wings are streaked brown, clean gray throat and breast, with a gray face and nape.

Juvenile female: Same as male

Similar Species: White throated sparrows can appear similar but have bright white throat, mottled gray chest, brownish sides and yellow lores. Lark sparrows have rufous cheek and crown stripes and a black spot on pale chest.

Behavior: Often seen foraging on the ground in open areas using the double-scratch method to expose food under the leaf litter.

Habitat: Generally they require a patchy mixture of bare ground and shrubby areas for breeding. However, breeding habitat, which differs widely between populations, can include boreal forest, tundra, mountain meadows, and shrubby areas in urban centers.


During the winter, diet consists manly of buds, grass, fruits, and invertebrates when available. During the breeding season, diet consist manly of invertebrates and seeds. The white-crowned sparrow produces and open cup nest which is generally placed from ground level to 1.5m in shrubs, but can be placed up to 2.5m off the ground in tall shrubs or low tree branches. Clutch size generally ranges between 3 and 7 eggs. In some areas, white-crowned sparrows can produce multiple successful nests in a single breeding season. The oldest recorded white-crowned Sparrow was 13 years 4 months old. White crown males can sometimes be heard singing at night time on the breeding grounds.

Conservation Status:

White-crowned Sparrows are numerous and widespread.
Capture Rates

A potential year round resident of southern British Columbia, capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) of White-crowned Sparrow at Colony Farm, where habitat is ideal for this species, can be seen throughout most of the year. Rates peak in September during juvenile dispersal and when those migrant individuals are preparing for their short journey south.

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