White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia leucophrys
Population size
79 mln
Life Span
13 yrs
25-28 g
18 cm
21-24 cm

White-crowned sparrows are medium-sized songbirds native to North America. Adults have black and white stripes on their head, a gray face, brown-streaked upperparts, and a long tail. The wings are brown with bars and the underparts are gray. Their bill is pink or yellow in color.


White-crowned sparrows occur across northern Canada and the western United States. Southerly populations in the Rocky Mountains and coast are largely resident but the breeding populations of the northerly part of their range are migratory and can be found as wintering or passage visitors through most of North America south to central Mexico. White-crowned sparrows inhabit brushy areas in the taiga, tundra, alpine meadows, and woodland edges. These birds can also be found in thickets, fields, gardens, and urban areas.

White-Crowned Sparrow habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

White-crowned sparrows are generally solitary, however, in winter, they often forage in flocks. These birds are active during the day. They forage on the ground or in low vegetation, but sometimes make short flights to catch flying insects. If disturbed, they will quickly fly back to cover. White-crowned sparrows communicate a thin, high ‘tseet' or a sharp, alarmed 'chink' calls; their song consists of short series of whistles and trills.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

White-crowned sparrows are herbivores (granivores) and carnivores (insectivores). They mainly eat seeds of weeds and grasses, as well as buds, flowers, berries, and small fruits. During summer they eat caterpillars, beetles, wasps, and sometimes spiders.

Mating Habits

11-14 days
8-10 days
3-5 eggs

White-crowned sparrows are monogamous breeders that mate for life. They nest either low in bushes or on the ground under shrubs. The female builds a cup-shaped nest of sticks, grasses, pine needles, roots and bark, and lines it with feathers and hair. She lays 3 to 5 brown-marked gray or greenish-blue eggs and incubates them for 11-14 days. The chicks are born blind and helpless. Both parents feed their young until they fledge and leave the nest in 8-10 days after hatching.


Population threats

There are no major threats facing White-crowned sparrows at present.

Population number

According to Partners in Flight resource, the total population size of the White-crowned sparrow is 79,000,000 breeding individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • White-crowned sparrows are known for their natural alertness mechanism, which allows them to stay awake for up to 2 weeks during migration. This effect has been studied for possible human applications, such as shift-work drowsiness or truck driving.
  • White-crowned sparrows can raise 2 or 3 broods during one breeding season.
  • White-crowned sparrows always hide their nest very thoroughly and to avoid detection, parents land on the ground a few meters before the nest and travel the rest of the way walking.
  • If a female White-crowned sparrow senses any danger, she will use a distraction display; she will wag her tail feathers and run away from the nest.
  • Despite their small in size, White-crowned sparrows are very strong fliers. During migration, they may travel up to 300 miles (483 km) in a single night!


1. White-Crowned Sparrow on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-crowned_sparrow
2. White-Crowned Sparrow on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22721088/94698409

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