Intro: White-crowned sparrows look similar to house sparrows, but they have a prominent white and black stripe on the head. The rest of their bodies are gray or light brown, and they have an orange-yellow beak. These wild birds are much less common at bird feeders than house sparrows, but they may visit your balcony garden when hungry in the winter. They eat insects, including caterpillars and beetles, in the summer, and mainly eat birdseed during the winter. White-crowned sparrows from different regions have slightly different colors, and because their songs are learned, there are also regional song dialects. There are several white-crowned sparrow subspecies.
Scientific Name: Zonotrichia leucophrys
Size: About 6 inches
Habitat: White-crowned sparrows are migratory birds that are common winter birds in the United States. These wild birds live in Canada and Alaska in the summer. Some populations in the northwestern United States are year-round residents, and a subspecies lives in California year-round. White-crowned sparrows are normally found in brush near open, grassy areas where they can forage for seeds, but they can often be spotted around the container plants in balcony gardens.
Courtship and Breeding: Males sing to defend territories and attract females (females hardly ever sing). Females build nests in shrubs from 1.5 to 10 feet off the ground. Females will lay three to seven eggs per clutch, which will hatch in about two weeks. The young leave after about 10 days after hatching. At this point, the young white-crowned sparrows begin to fly and start finding their own food. Most white-crowned sparrows only raise one clutch per year.
How to Attract: These wild birds will visit feeders for sunflower seeds, but they prefer to eat seeds from the ground. White-crowned sparrows may visit your balcony floor or ledge if there are seeds scattered about.
Misc. Info: This wild bird can stay awake for up to two weeks straight during migration.