Golden-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia atricapilla


The Golden-crowned Sparrow is a western North American member of the widespread Zonotrichia genus, a group allied to the juncos (Junco spp.). Many western observers know this species as the one that gives a sweet and plaintive simple whistled song that reminds one of the phrase “Oh, dear me.” It is a large sparrow with a distinctive blackish lateral crown that contrasts with a yellow central crown stripe, which turns white towards the nape; at least during the breeding season. It is dull and grayish-white to buffy white below, and unstreaked. The upperparts are brown and streaked, with two noticeable wingbars. Immatures and non-breeding adults have much duller crown patterns, although adults average brighter than immatures. It is thought that the brightness of the winter head pattern is an honest badge of dominance, and brighter crowned birds have access to the better foraging areas than less dominant birds. In winter this species forms flocks, sometimes with other sparrow species. Of the various western sparrows, this one prefers moister sites with an edge or open component, while the White-crowned Sparrow (Z. leucophrys) takes drier and more open sites, with overlap of course. It appears to be most closely related to the White-crowned Sparrow and sometimes hybridizes with it.

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© Gerrit Vyn

  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding

Recommended Citation

Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: