White-crowned Sparrows are year-round residents of the lower mainland. Slightly larger than a Song Sparrow, they are distinct by their white- and black-striped head, blunt yellow beak, grey belly, and long tail. Their wings are a mottled brown colour with black and white wing bars.
The song of the White-crowned Sparrow has been under great study; males develop their song at only 2-3 months of age by listening to their fathers and other males nearby their nest site. As their own song depends so much on the surrounding males’ songs, there are a number of different dialects across North America. Even those bordering edge habitats have been known to pick up the songs of the different male groups, making them ‘bilingual’ birds.
Photo by Kevin Cole
Also unusual is the female’s ability to sing; though rare, it is used when communicating about feeding and breeding. Despite the variation in song, most begin with a longer, drawn-out whistle and end with a shrilly buzz, and are quite melodic.
White-crowned sparrows are often found in small flocks hopping along shrubby borders surrounding open habitats, such as Hedgerows. These sparrows can use their feet to scrape at the ground in order to retrieve buried seeds, and will sometimes use a series of hops to turn over leaves. Agricultural fields are important habitats during winter and on migration for some subspecies. White-crowned sparrows forage on seeds, grains, barley, wheat, weeds, insects, and berries.