Beak of the Week – White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

Family: Passerellidae

The White-crowned Sparrow is a light gray sparrow with a brown back and wings, a long tail, orange, conical bill, and black and white striped cap on the head, making them look a little like badgers.

White-crowned Sparrows are very selective about the species they allow into their territories. They will chase away Dark-eyed Juncos and Chipping Sparrows, but do not mind sharing space with Fox Sparrows. White-crowned Sparrows are more aggressive toward other species than they are to other White-crowned Sparrows. In northern populations, male White-crowned Sparrows arrive first to the breeding grounds, and begin to sing in order to defend their territories from one another. When females arrive, they may defend their territories by singing as well. However, their songs are softer and more dynamic than the songs of the males. Different populations of White-crowned Sparrows form distinct song dialects because male White-throated Sparrows learn to sing from all of the songs of nearby White-crowned Sparrows. 

While female White-crowned Sparrows are the sole nest builders, both parents help to feed their young. Males will take care of the young while the females begin their second broods. Parents almost exclusively feed their young insects. Adults themselves consume insects, seeds, grains, and fruits. White-crowned Sparrows and Eastern Towhees engage in similar foraging behaviors. They turn over leaves by jumping backwards, and then hop forward again to grab the food item. 

This species breeds in open shrubby areas, and winters in areas with fields, roadsides, and dense vegetation. White-crowned Sparrows winter throughout most of the United States including the upper Texas coast.

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty

✏️ By Sarah Lefoley, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon

 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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