White-crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia leucophrys

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 1995
  • Glen Chilton, M. C. Baker, C. D. Barrentine, and M. A. Cunningham

Free Introduction Article Access

The Introduction Article is just the first of 11 articles in each species account that provide life history information for the species. The remaining articles provide detailed information regarding distribution, migration, habitat, diet, sounds, behavior, breeding, current population status and conservation. Each species account also includes a multimedia section that displays the latest photos, audio selections and videos from Macaulay Library’s extensive galleries. Written and continually updated by acknowledged experts on each species, Birds of North America accounts include a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining account articles and multimedia content.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In
Figure 1. Distribution of White-crowned Sparrow in North America

Small numbers winter north of the mapped winter range, and locally along the Atlantic coast from central New Jersey to central Florida.

Adult White-crowned Sparrow, California, December

Subspecies gambelii; Half Moon Bay, CA, 9 Dec 2005.; photographer Brian L. Sullivan

In the first formal treatment of the White-crowned Sparrow in 1772, J. R. Forster described it as an "elegant little species." So many others have found this species to be elegant that Luis Baptista (Baptista 1989) described it as the "best studied songbird" and as one of the best studied of all nongame bird species. Among the characteristics that make this species so attractive to ornithologists are its wide distribution, its abundance over much of its range, and its conspicuousness during most stages of its annual life cycle-all help to make this sparrow an ideal subject for studies of behavior in the wild. In addition, it thrives in captivity on a simple diet.

Because of these traits, much of our understanding of song ontogeny and geographic song variation in birds is based on the study of this species. Particularly well documented are its physiology (endocrinology, hematology, digestion) and breeding and population biology. In almost all fields of study, the most poorly studied subspecies is the nominate Z. l. leucophrys .

Subspecies of the White-crowned Sparrow differ substantially in behavior. Some populations are year-round residents, others are short-distance migrants, and still others migrate thousands of kilometers. In coastal California, this species is multibrooded, whereas at higher altitudes and latitudes, the shorter breeding season restricts it to only one brood.

Recommended Citation

Chilton, G., M. C. Baker, C. D. Barrentine, and M. A. Cunningham (1995). White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.183