Adults are 18 cm (7 in) long and have black and white stripes on their head, a grey face, brown streaked upper parts and a long tail. The wings are brown with bars and the underparts are grey. Their bill is pink or yellow. They are similar in appearance to the White-throated Sparrow but do not have the white throat markings.
There are five currently recognized subspecies of white-crowned sparrow (pugetensis, gambelii, nuttalli, oriantha, and leucophrys), varying in migratory behaviour and breeding habitat. The Nuttall's subspecies are permanent residents in California, while the Gambel's subspecies may migrate as far as the Arctic Circle during the summer breeding season. Northern birds migrate to the southern United States.
These birds forage on the ground or in low vegetation, but sometimes make short flights to catch flying insects. They mainly eat seeds, other plant parts and insects. In winter, they often forage in flocks.
White-crowned Sparrows nest either low in bushes or on the ground under shrubs and lay 3–5 brown-marked grey or greenish-blue eggs.
The White-crowned Sparrow is known for its natural alertness mechanism, which allows it to stay awake for up to two weeks during migration. This effect has been studied for possible human applications, such as shift-work drowsiness or truck driving.
Female White-crowned Sparrow hunting for food on the ground. Owl Canyon on the western shore of Bodega Harbor, California
See also 
- BirdLife International (2012). "Zonotrichia leucophrys". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- Broad, R. A.; Hawley, R. G. (1980). "White-crowned Sparrows: new to Britain and Ireland". British Birds 73 (10): 466–470.
- "Rare bird found in coastal garden". BBC News. 9 January 2008. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
- Hussey, Harry (2003). "The White-crowned Sparrow in County Cork". Birding World 16 (5): 203–5.
- "American mob-sparrow declares war on Norway". Archived from the original on 7 October 2009.
- "It's Wake-Up Time". Wired Website. 1 November 2003. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
- "Migratory Sleeplessness in the White-Crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)". PLoS Biology. 13 July 2004. PMC 449897.
- "Alaska sparrow migration mystery". Far North Science Website. 6 November 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
- "Circadian and Masking Control of Migratory Restlessness in Gambel's White-Crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)". Journal of Biological Rhythms. 1 February 2008. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: White-crowned Sparrow|
- White-crowned Sparrow Species Account - Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- White-crowned Sparrow - Zonotrichia leucophrys - USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter
- White-crowned Sparrow videos on the Internet Bird Collection
- White-crowned Sparrow photo gallery VIREO
- White-crowned Sparrow, Birds of Nova Scotia
- Daily Mail article about a White-crowned Sparrow as an exotic visitor to the UK, now commemorated in a church window
- Chilton, G., M. C. Baker, C. D. Barrentine, and M. A. Cunningham. 1995. White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). In The Birds of North America, No. 183 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.
- Kroodsma DE, Baker MC, Baptista LF & Petrinovich L. (1985). Vocal "dialects" in Nuttall's white-crowned sparrow. In Johnston, R F [Editor] Current Ornithology 103-133, 1985. Plenum Press, 233 Spring Street, New York, New York.