White-crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia leucophrys

Elegantly marked in gray, brown, black, and white, the White-crowned Sparrow is one of the best-studied songbirds in North America. Much of our knowledge of bird song and development is based on studies of this species.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • Four of the five subspecies of White-crowned Sparrows are migratory. The sedentary race lives in a very narrow band along the California coast. The most widespread race, breeding across northern Canada and wintering in the eastern United States, is the least-studied and least well known of all the races.
  • A young male White-crowned Sparrow learns the basics of the song it will sing as an adult during the first two or three months of its life. It does not learn directly from its father, but rather from the generalized song environment of its natal neighborhood.
  • Because male White-crowned Sparrows learn the songs they grew up with and do not travel far from where they were raised, song dialects frequently form. Males on the edge of two dialects may be bilingual and able to sing both dialects.


  • Size: 15-16 cm (6-6 in)
  • Wingspan: 21-24 cm (8-9 in)
  • Weight: 25-28 g (0.88-0.99 ounces)
  • Large sparrow, small songbird.
  • Top of head with two broad black stripes, separated by a broad white crown stripe.
  • Eyebrow stripe white, bordered in front by black crown stripe.
  • Narrow black line extending from eye to back of nape.
  • Rest of face, sides of neck and breast gray.
  • Paler on throat and belly.
  • Back and wing light gray streaked with brown.
  • Rump pale brown.
  • Wings with two white wingbars.
  • Bill pinkish brown to yellowish.
  • Legs brown to pink.
  • Eyes dark.
Sex Differences
Sexes alike in plumage, males slightly larger.
Juvenile with crown stripes brown and buff, breast and belly buff streaked with black. First winter like adult except crown stripes brown and buff, not black and white.
Range Map
Taxonomic Hierarchy


2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Emberizidae
Genus: Zonotrichia
Species: Zonotrichia leucophrys
  • Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii
  • Zonotrichia leucophrys leucophrys
  • Zonotrichia leucophrys nuttalli
  • Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha
  • Zonotrichia leucophrys pugetensis
Song a series of clear whistles followed by buzzes or trills on different pitches.

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
  • Length Range: 17-19 cm (6.5-7.5 in)
  • Weight: 28 g (1 oz)
  • Size: 2. Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Brown, Gray
  • Underparts: Pale gray with white belly.
  • Upperparts: Brown with black and brown streaking.
  • Back Pattern: Striped or streaked
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Solid
  • Bill Shape: Cone
  • Eye Color: Brown when immature, becoming dark brown in adults.
  • Head Pattern: Eyeline, Striped
  • Crown Color: Black and white striped.
  • Forehead Color: Black and white striped.
  • Nape Color: Gray
  • Throat Color: White
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Short flights wih rapid wing beats., Alternates several rapid wing beats with wings drawn to sides.
  • Wingspan Range: 23-26 cm (9.25-10.25 in)
  • Wing Shape: Rounded-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Fan-shaped Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Dark Brown
  • Under Tail: Dark Brown
  • Leg Color: Pink
  • Breeding Location: Forest edge, Grassland with scattered trees, Bushes, shrubs, and thickets, Mountains
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous
  • Breeding Population: Fairly common to common
  • Egg Color: Light blue or green with red brown markings
  • Number of Eggs: 2 - 6
  • Incubation Days: 11 - 14
  • Egg Incubator: Female
  • Nest Material: Grasses, sticks, rootlets, and forbs.
  • Migration: Northern birds migrate
  • Condition at Hatching: Helpless with little down.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Bruant couronne blanche (French)
  • Zacatero mixto (Spanish)
  • White-throated Sparrow with bright white throat, yellow lores, more brown than gray.
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow without white on head, yellow central crown stripe. First winter Golden-crowned very similar to first winter White-crowned, but usually has some yellow on the forehead.

Conservation Status

May be declining in some areas in western United States.


Sources used to Construct this Page:

  • Breeds in tundra, boreal forest, and alpine meadows over most of range.
  • On West Coast is found in suburban areas and near the ocean in areas with bare ground and shrubs.
  • Chilton, G., M. C. Baker, C. D. Barrentine, and M. A. Cunningham. 1995. White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). In The Birds of North America, No. 183 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Seeds, buds, arthropods.
Feeds primarily on ground. Scratches in litter with both feet. Some hawking of insects from perch.

Adult Sexes Similar

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Additional Photos & Video

Adult Sexes Similar

1st Winter
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Adult Sexes Similar

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First year
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First Winter

All photos 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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