The White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned SparrowThe white-crowned sparrow, known by its scientific name Zonotrichia leucophrys, is a medium-sized sparrow of the passeriformes order and the emberizidae family. It is native to North America.
Distinctive birds with bold black and white stripes on their heads, white-crowned sparrow adults are seven inches long and have gray faces, brown streaked upper parts and long tails. Typically, these birds have a clear, gray breast and belly, and wings distinctly marked with two white wing-bars. The beak is orange-yellow, yellow, or pink to reddish-brown, depending on the subspecies. They are similar in appearance to the white-throated sparrow, but do not have the white throat markings or yellow lores. Young birds are streaked overall until August, when they take on a juvenile plumage similar to the adult; they have brown and tan head stripes rather than black and white, which they keep until the spring.
There are five currently recognized subspecies of white-crowned sparrow (pugetensis, gambelii, nuttalli, oriantha, and leucophrys), and these subspecies vary in terms of their individual breeding distribution migratory routes. 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.
Different subspecies vary in their habitat requirements, but in general they require a patchy mosaic of bare ground and shrubby areas for breeding, mostly brushy areas across northern Canada and the western United States. Their territories are usually small, and they will breed in small patches of habitat in the middle of a city. During winter, they move into slightly more open habitats.
The white-crowned sparrow is a very rare vagrant to western Europe. It has been sighted in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Norway.
White-crowned sparrows are generally found in flocks of their own and other species outside the breeding season. Flocks of white-crowned sparrows fan out into open ground away from sheltering bushes as they feed, flying back to cover in a wave if disturbed. They forage on the ground in open areas or in low vegetation, with sheltered thickets nearby for cover, and sometimes make short flights to catch flying insects. They use a two-footed scratching maneuver to locate food in leaf litter.
They mainly eat seeds, other plant parts and insects. In winter, they often forage in flocks, during which time they dine on eat seeds, grass, buds, fruits, and arthropods. During the breeding season, arthropods make up a larger proportion of their diet.
Males generally arrive on the breeding grounds before females. The males sing to defend their territories and attract mates. The nest is usually located on the ground at the base of/under a shrub or a clump of grass, in a depression so the rim is level with the ground. Nests on the West Coast are often placed in a shrub a few feet off the ground. The female builds the nest, which is an open cup made of grass, sticks, pine needles, rootlets, and bark strips and is lined with fine grass, feathers, and hair. The female incubates the three to seven brown-marked gray or greenish-blue eggs for eleven to fourteen days. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest at eight to ten days after hatching. The young begin to fly about seven to ten days after leaving the nest and start finding their own food at about that time as well. The pugetensis subspecies typically raises two to three broods each year, while the other subspecies usually raise only one.
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.
The scientific name for these birds is from Ancient Greek. The genus Zonotrichia is from zone, “band,” and thrix, trikhos, “hair,” and the specific leucophrys is from leukos, “white,” and ophrus, “eyebrow.”
From Wikipedia and BirdWeb, the website for the Seattle Audubon Society.

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