Bird Lore: White-crowned Sparrow

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(Photos by LeRoy VanHee)
(Photos by LeRoy VanHee)

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The Puget Sound lowlands host the White-crowned Sparrow throughout the year. Look for this bird in Edmonds parks, in bushy areas along the waterfront parks, and in your own yard if you have shrubs, trees, and perhaps a bird feeder. This sparrow is large, lean and a bit athletic looking.

We have two subspecies of White-crowned Sparrow, Puget Sound and Gambell’s. They can be present in roughly equal numbers or Puget Sound can outnumber Gambell’s. This sparrow probably seems more common to us in spring and summer because of its song, which is well recognized by many. Most of us probably pay little attention to its winter chip note and fail to notice this sparrow in fall and winter.

The crown on the adult bird is striped in crisp black and white. It has a plain gray chest and belly. Its back and wings are mostly brown. You can see in LeRoy’s first picture how striking the adult is with its black-and-white crown. The bill is a pale color, mostly yellowish. The crown on a subadult sparrow, as you can see in LeRoy’s second photo, has reddish brown stripes with a tawny center. Other than that difference, the young bird also has a yellowish bill, clean gray undersides, and mostly brown uppers.

The White-crowned Sparrow eats mostly seeds, vegetable matter, and insects. The seeds of weeds and grasses make up most of its winter diet. In other seasons it will eat buds, flowers, willow catkins, berries and other small fruits. It eats a lot of insects and spiders in summer when protein needs are greatest.

This sparrow builds its nest on the ground at the base of a shrub, or in a grass clump. The nest, built by the female, is an open cup of grass, twigs, strips of bark, and weeds, and is lined with soft materials such as fine grass or feathers. The female will incubate her 4 – 5 eggs for just under two weeks. Both parents feed the nestlings until they leave the nest in anywhere from 7 to 12 days.

You can listen to the song of the White-crowned Sparrow at this link: https://www.xeno-canto.org/160180 .

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

2 Replies to “Bird Lore: White-crowned Sparrow”

  1. Nicely photographed pictures of the White-corwned sparrow, LeRoy. Carol is correct, the sparrow does have an athletic build.

    Ignored

    1. Oops, I cannot spell this morning. Meant to write ‘White-crowned sparrow.’ I will blame daylight saving time!

      Ignored

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