Birds – White-crowned Sparrow

(Zonotrichia leucophrys) Finch family Length—7 inches. A little larger than the English sparrow.

Male—White head, with four longitudinal black lines marking off a crown, the black-and-white stripes being of about equal width. Cheeks, nape, and throat gray. Light gray underneath, with some buff tints. Back dark grayish brown, some feathers margined with gray. Two interrupted white bars across wings. Plain, dusky tail ; total effect, a clear ashen gray.

Female—With rusty head inclining to gray on crown. Paler throughout than the male.

Range—From high mountain ranges of western United States (more rarely on Pacific slope) to Atlantic Ocean, and from Labrador to Mexico. Chiefly south of Pennsylvania.

Migrations—October. April. Irregular migrant in Northern States. A winter resident elsewhere.

The large size and handsome markings of this aristocratic-looking Northern sparrow would serve to distinguish him at once, did he not often consort with his equally fine-looking white-throated cousins while migrating, and so too often get over-looked. Sparrows are such gregarious birds that it is well to scrutinize every flock with especial care in the spring and autumn, when the rarer migrants are passing. This bird is more common in the high altitudes of the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains than elsewhere in the United States. There in the lonely forest it nests in low bushes or on the ground, and sings its full love-song, as it does in the northern British provinces, along the Atlantic coast ; but during the migrations it favors us only with selections from its repertoire. Mr. Ernest Thompson says, ” Its usual song is like the latter half of the white-throat’s familiar refrain, repeated a number of times with a peculiar, sad cadence and in a clear, soft whistle that is characteristic of the group.” “The song is the loudest and most plaintive of all the sparrow songs,” says John Burroughs. “It begins with the words fe-u, fe-u, fe-u, and runs off into trills and quavers like the song sparrow’s, only much more touching.” Colorado miners tell that this sparrow, like its white-throated relative, sings on the darkest nights.

Often a score or more birds are heard singing at once after the habit of the European nightingales, which, however, choose to sing only in the moonlight.