Bird of the Month May 2021

White-crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia leucophrys


The White-crowned sparrow is a large sparrow with a long tail, gray chest, throat and neck, and yellow or orange bill. The most distinguishing characteristic though, is the boldly striped head, starting with a black eye-stripe then alternating white and black with a white stripe on the crown. Adult sexes are similar but juveniles have brown and gray stripes on the head.

Behavior and Habitat

White-crowned sparrows can be found in just about any brushy habitat where they kick and scuff at the ground looking for their favorite foods which include seeds, invertebrates, and berries. They commonly feed in small flocks and the flocks can move around considerably.

This is one of the most common birds in Western habitats and usually easily identifiable. They range from the Arctic to Colorado during the summer and during the winter can be found in most of the warmer states all the way to central Mexico. Birds from Alaska travel 2,500 miles to winter in California. One male was documented traveling 300 miles in a single night! White-crowned sparrows may spend the entire year in some areas of the Intermountain West.

These birds have from one to three broods a year, depending on location and conditions. They generally nest low to the ground, seldom higher than 10 feet. They have up to seven eggs which they brood for only 10-14 days. Within two weeks the nestlings are fledged.

The pair bond between male and female breaks after nesting, but research has shown that about 70% of the time, the same pairs reunite the next season.

Similar Species

There are a number of sparrows with stripes on their heads, but few of them are found at Camas NWR. The most likely error would be to confuse a young white-crowned sparrow with a female house sparrow or female house finch.

When and where found at Camas NWR

You can encounter the white-crowned sparrow almost anywhere on the Refuge. However, the north end, with the shelterbelts and bird feeders, is likely to be a sure bet. Watch for them on the ground or in the bottoms of bushes.


“White-crowned Sparrows are numerous and widespread but populations declined by about 29% between 1966 and 2012, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 60 million with 80% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 59% in Canada, and 18% wintering in Mexico. They rate a 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List.”

Text by Terry Thomas. Source: