Bird Database

White-crowned Sparrow

(Zonotrichia leucophrys)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance





Conservation Actions

More data are needed on population trends and magnitudes of threats

White-crowned Sparrow

(Zonotrichia leucophrys)

The White-crowned Sparrow is a distinctive bird, especially for a sparrow. The bold black-and-white stripes on the otherwise gray head of an adult are unmistakable. Sometime the “white-striped” form of the White-throated Sparrow can be a source of confusion, but these are never as clearly marked. Young birds in the fall are equally striking, with the black and white replaced by tan and pale gray.

There are several subspecies of White-crowned Sparrows in North America. The ones we see in New Hampshire are all migrants that breed in the tundra and sparse coniferous forests of arctic Canada and winter in the southeastern United States. We see them here for a brief period in May and a longer one in fall, and they are never common. They tend to occur with other sparrows, particularly their close relatives the White-throats. On rare occasions some will spend the winter, usually at feeders or brushy areas in the southeastern portion of the state.

Other subspecies occur in the western United States. Those in the Rocky Mountains breed in alpine meadows and spend the winter in the southwest, while those along the Pacific coast are often present all year, sometimes in developed areas. These more urban populations of White-crowned Sparrows have been the subject of extensive research into topics as varied as migration and song development. A recent study in the San Francisco area documented that birds sang their songs at a higher pitch during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It turns out that these sparrows had changed their songs to be more audible over traffic noise but quickly reverted to their original tunes when people suddenly stopped driving as much.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

White-crowned Sparrow
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count