Zonotrichia albicolliswhite-throated sparrow

Geographic Range

During the summer, white-throated sparrows generally breed from northwestern Canada including Central Quebec and Newfoundland, all the way eastward to Minnesota and the Great Lakes, and southward to New England. In the winter, most white-throated sparrows overwinter in the eastern United States, ranging from New England in the north to northern Mexico in the south. In addition, a very small number of Zonotrichia albicollis migrate to West Oregon, occupying the Columbia and Klamath River Basins. (Robbins, 1992)


Zonotrichia albicollis is found mainly in coniferous forests and northern decidious forests. In the winter they can also be found off the western coasts of Oregon, as well as in dry deserts in Texas. Zonotrichia albicollis favors semi-open wooded areas that have sufficient and shrubby growth or brush. White-throated sparrows love to hide in brushy fencerows, in Himalayan blackberry tangles, forest edges, shrubby willows, and even borders of swamps with a dense overgrowth of brush. (Gilligan, 1994; Slivoski, 1998)

Physical Description

White-throated sparrows are approximately 2.6 - 2.9 cm long. The head has tan and black stripes on top, with grey below and on the sides of the head. Adults have both tan and white stripes, as opposed to first year birds which only have tan stripes but are heavily streaked underneath. White-throated sparrows are sexually dimorphic, meaning the male and female are somewhat different. There are small variations in the coloration between the males and females. Male sparrows have darker stripes on the head and brighter yellow blotches.

Between the bill and the eyes, on both males and females, there are bright yellow blotches. Zonotrichia albicollis has a "white-throat" with a black border, and a whitish belly. The back is brown with dark streaks and the wings are also brown. White-throated sparrows have dark bills and pink legs. The dark bill separates it from similar white-crowned sparrows. (Peterson, 1987; Robbins, 1992)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male more colorful
  • Average mass
    26 g
    0.92 oz
  • Average mass
    21.1 g
    0.74 oz
  • Average length
    17 cm
    6.69 in
  • Average wingspan
    22.86 cm
    9.00 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.278 W


White-throated sparrows reproduce seasonally, mainly during the spring when they have settled into northwestern Canada and northeastern United States. Zonotrichia albicollis lay 3 to 6 eggs, usually 4, in open-roofed nests they build for their young.

Young sparrows can breed in the first year after hatching. (Anderson, 1994; Brown, 1996; Wheye, 2000)

  • Breeding interval
    Usually females only lay eggs once each year, but sometimes after the first brood has left the nest, a female will lay eggs again and raise a second brood of chicks.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs each spring.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 6
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    3 to 4 weeks
  • Range fledging age
    7 to 12 days
  • Average fledging age
    9 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

It takes approximately 3 to 4 weeks for the young chick to hatch. Even then, first born sparrows are not well developed; they are altricial, missing feathers, one of the most important forms of insulation. Without feathers, Zonotrichia albicollis cannot fly. The newborn sparrow stays in the nest, waiting for its both parents to feed it and attend to its every need. It fledges 8 or 9 days after it hatches. (Anderson, 1994; Brown, 1996; Wheye, 2000)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


A white-throated sparrow banded in the United States lived at least 9 years and 8 months.


Since white-throated sparrows migrate seasonally, they move around North America twice annually. They tend to flock with other Zonotrichia sparrows, as well as with juncos and sometimes house sparrows. While Zonotrichia albicollis are occupying western Oregon, specifically the Klamath Basin, they have been spotted flocking with golden-crowned sparrows. Zonotrichia albicollis build nests on the grounds of semi-open shrubby areas or forests, mostly at the edges of clearings, or in small trees or shrubs. White-throated sparrow nests are always near trees, stumps, or logs. These obstacles serve as look-out perchs and ensure the sparrow's safety from lurking predators. Such predators consist of larger carnivorous or omnivorous birds such as American crows. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Slivoski, 1998)

Communication and Perception

The voice or call of white-throated sparrows sounds like they are saying "Poor Sam Peabody." They use an array of other vocalizations as well.

White-throated sparrows have keen vision and hearing.

Food Habits

Zonotrichia albicollis, like almost all members of Aves, are omnivores. Their diet consists of seeds, fruits, and insects. Seeds come from the floor of forests and bushy clearings. The white-throated sparrow also finds seeds hidden in grasses and weeds. Zonotrichia albicollis also feed on wild fruits from blackberry tangles, shrubbery, and insects when available and feed young in the nest almost exclusively insects. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Gilligan, 1994)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Sparrow eggs, chicks, and even adults are vulnerable to many mammal and bird predators. A few are listed below. To avoid predators, they rely on cryptic coloration (camouflage) and the ability to fly. White-throated sparrow nests are always near trees, stumps, or logs. Sparrows use these places as perches to look out for predators.

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

White-throated sparrows are important members of their ecosystems, being important both as seed dispersers and predators and as prey to larger mammals and birds.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Zonotrichia albicollis are beneficial to humans because they consume numerous insects that they find in trees, bushes, or shrubs. Eating certain insects that might cause harm to such trees, bushes or shrubs, protects the plants from disease, which indeed benefits humans and aids in the production of more plants. (Peterson, 1987)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Although the white-throated sparrow does not have direct affects on humans for competition for food or habitat, Zonotrichia albicollis may affect humans by consumption of seeds that might otherwise produce plants that are useful to humans. (Robbins, et al., 1996)

Conservation Status

White-throated Sparrows are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.


Andrea Galanti (author), University of California, Irvine, Rudi Berkelhamer (editor), University of California, Irvine.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Anderson, W. 1994. "Zonotrichia albicollis: White-Throated Sparrow" (On-line). Accessed October 30, 2000 at http://www.orst.edu/pubs/birds/spaccts/spar.htm#wtsp.

Brown, D. 1996. "Life History: Zonotrochia albicollis" (On-line). Accessed October 30, 2000 at http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i5580id.html.

Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. The Birds Handbook: A Field Guide to Natural History of North American Birds. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc..

Gilligan, H. 1994. Zonotrichia abicollis. Littleton, CO: Westfield Publishing Company, Inc..

Peterson, B. 1987. Abundance and Distribution of Birds in Canada. Canada Biological Survey, Biological Notes #19: 56-59.

Robbins, C., B. Bruun, H. Zim. 1996. Birds of North America. New York, NY: Western Publishing Company, Inc..

Robbins, N. 1992. Breeding in White-Throated Sparrow. Journal of North American Birds, Conder 94, V21: 336-343.

Slivoski, J. 1998. "White-throated Sparrow" (On-line). Accessed October 24, 2000 at http://www.slivoski.com/birding/nindex.htm.

Wheye, D. 2000. "Birds of Stanford:White-throated Sparrow" (On-line). Accessed 4 April 2002 at http://www.stanfordalumni.org/birdsite/text/species/White-throated_Sparrow.html.