The Golden-Crowned Sparrow is a wonder to watch in the winter at my feeders on Vancouver Island. Sometimes they come in the hundreds. The golden-crowned sparrow has bright breeding plumage with a bright yellow crown flanked with bold, black bars. The yellow extends to the nape of the neck and then changes to whitish; the black covers the top half of the eye. The back is light brown with bold stripes. The rump is brownish-gray, with the color extending through the long tail. The wings are brightly patterned with two white wing-bars. The breast and belly are not streaked.
Non-breeding plumage is more subdued than breeding plumage, with most of the black and white on the head gone, and the yellow a softer shade. Young birds keep an immature plumage with little or no yellow through their first winter.
The male stakes and defends a territory, he attracts a potential mate by singing his heart out from a high perch. Pairs are monogamous, and the birds will forage together during the breeding season.
If they are nesting early in the breeding season, while there may still be snow on the ground, they will choose a nesting site up in trees or shrubs. Birds that begin nesting at a later date will generally build their nests on the ground. The female builds the nest, although the male will help gather material. It is a usually large, messy, and cup-shaped nest, built out of twigs, moss, and other natural material, lined with fine grass, animal hair, and feathers.
The female incubates up to 5 eggs for about 13 days, and the male will bring her food while she is on the nest. Both parents help feed the young, which leave the nest within 11 days of hatching, but are still fed by the parents for a while longer.