Adults are 18 cm (7 in) long and have black and white stripes on their head, a gray face, brown streaked upper parts and a long tail. The wings are brown with bars and the underparts are gray. Their bill is pink or yellow. They are similar in appearance to the white-throated sparrow, but do not have the white throat markings or yellow lores.
There are five currently recognized subspecies of white-crowned sparrow (pugetensis, gambelii, nuttalli, oriantha, and leucophrys), varying in breeding distribution migratory route. Birds of the subspecies nutalli are permanent residents in California, while birds of the subspecies gambelli may migrate as far as the Arctic Circle during the summer breeding season. Northern birds migrate to the southern United States.
Their breeding habitat is brushy areas across northern Canada and the western 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 three to five brown-marked gray 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.
Juvenile white-crowned sparrow hunting for food on the ground. Owl Canyon on the western shore of Bodega Harbor, California
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- "American mob-sparrow declares war on Norway". Archived from the original on 7 October 2009.
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- "It's Wake-Up Time". Wired Website. 1 November 2003. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
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- "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.
- 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to the white-crowned sparrow.|
|Wikispecies has information related to: Zonotrichia leucophrys|
- White-crowned sparrow species account - Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- White-crowned sparrow - Zonotrichia leucophrys - USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter
- "White-crowned sparrow media". Internet Bird Collection.
- White-crowned sparrow photo gallery at VIREO (Drexel University)
- Daily Mail article about a white-crowned sparrow as an exotic visitor to the UK, now commemorated in a church window
- Interactive range map of Zonotrichia leucophrys at IUCN Red List maps