BOM: White-crowned Sparrow
Scientific name: Zonotrichia leucophrys
How to identify:
White-crowns are a large sparrow with a long tail. They are easy to identify with the crisp black and which crown stripes of the adults and their pink or yellow bill. First winter (immature) birds sport buff and brown head stripes. White-crowned sparrows are one of the few birds you will hear singing in the winter; the song is described as a series of clear whistles followed by buzzy notes. Female birds will sometimes sing, also. This bird spends the summer on tundra or in boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. During summer they supplement a seed diet with insects, grains and fruit.
Another winter resident is the Golden-crowned Sparrow. In summer Golden-crowns have a black crown with a fiery gold forehead. In winter, when we are more likely to see them, their colors are more muted, with a brown head and paler yellow on the crown.
White-crowned Sparrows breed in open or shrubby habitats, including tundra, high alpine meadows, and forest edges. Patches of bare ground and grasses are important characteristics. During winter and on migration these birds frequent thickets, weedy fields, agricultural fields, roadsides, and backyards.
Where to find one:
White-crowned Sparrows appear each winter over much of North America to grace our gardens and favorite trails (they live in parts of the West year-round). The smart black-and-white head, pale beak, and crisp gray breast combine for a dashing look - and make it one of the surest sparrow identifications in North America. Watch for flocks of these sparrows scurrying through brushy borders and overgrown fields, or coax them into the open with backyard feeders. As spring approaches, listen out for this bird's thin, sweet whistle.
How to attract one to your yard:
White-crowned Sparrows come to feeders for sunflower and other kinds of seeds - though they may be more likely to stay on the ground eating seeds dropped by other birds. Making a brush pile in your yard is another good way to encourage this species to spend more time in your yard
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.
For more information on White Crowned Sparrows, visit one of the three Moana Nursery store locations: 1100 W. Moana Ln. & 11301 S. Virginia St., Reno and 7644 Pyramid Hwy., Sparks.
Carmel Ruiz-Hilton is Manager of Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shops at Moana Nursery in Reno/Sparks