Open Field Birds, Pacific Northwest
The White-crowned sparrow is a very pretty bird with bold black and white stripes on its head. It has a clear, gray breast and belly, long tail, and wings marked with two white wing bars. The beak is orange-yellow to reddish brown depending on the subspecies. Young birds are streaked overall until August when they take on a juvenile plumage similar to the adult, they have brown and tan head stripes rather than black and white, which they keep until the spring.
These birds come to our feeders in large groups and are a real joy to watch, especially in the spring when they are in the mating mood.
The White-crowned Sparrow is generally found in small flocks of their own mixed in with other species, during the non-breeding season. White-crowned Sparrows come out into open ground away from the forest edge as they feed, flying back to cover in a wave if disturbed. They forage on the ground in open areas, with sheltered thickets nearby for cover. They use a scratching maneuver to locate food in the leaf litter. In the spring, they like to feed on our crab apple buds and sometimes there 100’s of them in our tree.
Males generally arrive on the breeding grounds before the females. The males will stake out a territory, then defend it by singing, they will sing to attract potential mates as well. The nest is located on the ground at the base of a shrub or in a clump of grass, in a depression so the rim is level with the ground. Nests on the West Coast are often placed in a shrub a few feet off the ground though. The female constructs the nest, which is an open bowl made of grass, sticks, evergreen needles, and is lined with fine grass, feathers, and animal hair. The female incubates up to 7 eggs for up to 14 days. Both adults then feed the young, which leave the nest within 10 days after hatching. The young begin to fly about 10 days after leaving the nest and start finding their own food at about that time as well.