South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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White-crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia leucophrys

Length: 6.5 to 7.5 inches Wingspan: 9 to 10 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: White crown with black stripes, black eyestripe, 2 white wing bars

White-crowned Sparrow - Zonotrichia leucophrysWhite-crowned Sparrows are a fairly common migrant through the state.  They are well known for the amazing range of dialects from one location to another, and are one of the most studied of bird species in North America.  Young males learn their songs in their first few months of life, "picking up" a song style in the local environment where they're raised.   As individual birds often return to the same general area for breeding, local populations have thus developed their own dialects.  A fully-mature White-crowned Sparrow is shown in the photo to the right.  Immature (first-year) birds typically have less bold markings on the head (see photos at the bottom of the page).

Habitat: Forest edges, brush, thickets, parks, residential areas, farms.  Can be found in nearly any brushy location during its migration through the state.

Diet: Mostly seeds, other vegetable matter, and insects.  Many insects in summer, mostly seeds in the winter. 

Behavior: Primarily forages by on the ground, or occasionally low in vegetation.  They will also occasionally fly out from a perch to catch flying insects.  They are often gregarious outside of the mating season, foraging in loose flocks, often mixed with other sparrow species.

Nesting: Non-breeder in South Dakota

Song: White-crowned Sparrow Song

Migration: Most summer in northern Canada, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains.  Most winter in the southern half of the U.S., the west coast, and Mexico.  However, there is a non-migratory population along the coastline of California. 

Similar Species: White-throated Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow

Bird Feeders: They will attend feeders for most seeds.

Conservation Status: There are several different populations of  this species, most of which seem to be stable.  However, there are indications that some populations in the western United States are declining.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, White-crowned Sparrow

2) Cornell Lab of Ornithology - White-crowned Sparrow

3) White-crowned Sparrow

Photo Information: May 4th, 2004 -- Yard in Brandon -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution White-crowned Sparrow photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
White-crowned Sparrow - North American Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant throughout the state.  Casual winter visitor, primarily in the southern part of the state.