Family New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)

Least Concern

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)


French: Bruant à couronne blanche German: Dachsammer Spanish: Chingolo coroniblanco

Emberiza leucophrys

J. R. Forster

, 1772,

Severn River, west shore of Hudson Bay, Canada


Perhaps most closely related to Z. atricapilla, with which it hybridizes; hybrids with Z. albicollis and Melospiza melodia also recorded. Coastal races pugetensis and nuttalli are somewhat divergent morphologically, vocally, in breeding habitat, and in migration distance; however, song of race oriantha is rather close to these two, and deeper analysis of characters separating or uniting these taxa is needed. In Canada, race gambelii intergrades with oriantha in SE British Columbia and with nominate in N Manitoba. Proposed race aphaea (described from Idaho, presumably on migration) included in nominate. Five subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • Z. l. gambelii (Nuttall, 1840) – Alaska and W Canada (E to Nunavut and N Manitoba, S to S British Columbia, SW Alberta and N Saskatchewan; non-breeding quarters in S British Columbia and W USA (E to NE Kansas, S to California) and Mexico (S to Nayarit, Aguascalientes and San Luis Potosí).
  • Z. l. leucophrys (J. R. Forster, 1772) – C & E Canada from N Manitoba and N Ontario E through N & NC Quebec to N Labrador and N Newfoundland; winters in S & SE USA (S from Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky and North Carolina) and N Mexico (S to Sonora).
  • Z. l. pugetensis Grinnell, 1928 – extreme SW Canada (SW British Columbia) S along US coast to NW California; non-breeding S to SW California.
  • Z. l. nuttalli Ridgway, 1899 – coastal & C California (from Mendocino County S to Santa Barbara County).
  • Z. l. oriantha Oberholser, 1932 – mountains of SW Canada (SE British Columbia, S Alberta and extreme SW Saskatchewan) and W USA (N Idaho S through SC Oregon to C & E California and SC Nevada, E to Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, CE Arizona and N New Mexico); non-breeding SW USA (S California and S Arizona E to C Texas) and Mexico (S to S Baja California, Jalisco, Michoacán, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí and Nuevo León).
  • Descriptive notes

    14·0–17·0 cm; 21·0–38·5 g. A fairly large, long-tailed sparrow. Nominate race has broad white median crownstripe extending from back... read more


    Song variable, with many regional dialects, but distinctive, characteristically consists of 2 (1... read more


    In N parts of range breeds at tree-line in dwarf spruce–birch (Picea... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet during breeding season primarily arthropods, including larval Lepidoptera, beetles (Coleoptera) and bugs (Hemiptera). In winter eats... read more


    Season varies geographically, breeds mid-Jun through Jul in C Canada (Manitoba and Ontario), and in USA begins late Apr to early May in... read more


    N and montane populations entirely migratory; S coastal nuttalli sedentary, while more N... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Often common or very common in appropriate habitat. Logging often benefits this species, as it thrives in young second growth on... read more

    Recommended citation

    Rising, J. (2020). White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 21 February 2020).