BIRD OF THE WEEK: 01/01/2016 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Zonotrichia albicollis
POPULATION: Approximately 140 million
TREND: Stable
HABITAT: Forest and forest edges; in winter, thickets, parks, and woodsy suburbs

White-throated Sparrow map, NatureServeThe White-throated Sparrow breeds mostly across Canada, but it's a familiar winter bird across most of eastern and southern North America, as well as California. The bird's sweet whistled song, described as “Poor Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody” or “Oh, Sweet Canada Canada Canada,” can be heard throughout the day.

The white-throated is—unlike Baird's and Worthen's—one of our more common sparrow species. But it is also one of the most frequent victims of window collisions. (Bird-smart glass options are available to reduce this needless mortality.)

Sparrow Variations

White-throated Sparrows have two adult plumage variations: tan-striped and white-striped. On the white-striped birds, the supercilium (eyebrow) and central crown stripe are white; they are tan in tan-striped birds.


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The two color morphs occur in approximately equal numbers, and interestingly, the birds almost always pair with the opposite color morph when breeding. White-striped birds behave more aggressively than tan-striped ones and tend to dominate at bird-feeders and other competitive situations.

White-throated Sparrow, Jacob Spendelow

White-throated Sparrow by Jacob Spendelow

Ground-nesting Weed-eaters

Nesting on or near the ground, the White-throated Sparrow is vulnerable to cats and other predators. The birds will sometimes nest a second time in a breeding season if a ground nest is predated; in that case, they may build a new nest off the ground. Pairs stay together for the summer but often choose new partners the following year.

White-throated Sparrows eat mainly the seeds of grasses and weeds, including ragweed. (One way to feed the birds is to leave some parts of your yard un-mowed.) They also eat fruit—sumac, blueberry, blackberry, and dogwood, to name a few—and in summer, consume large numbers of insects.

Bird in Decline

The White-throated Sparrow is abundant, but like many birds—including BobolinkLong-billed Curlew, and Cerulean Warbler—it declined over most of its range between 1966 and 2010, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 140 million.

You can help White-throated Sparrows by reducing the threat of window collisions at your home or office, growing native plants in your yard, and keeping cats indoors.

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