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Friday, October 22, 2010

ID-ing Sparrows At Your Bird Feeder

White-throated Sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis, come in two morphs. One morph has brown head stripes, as here;

the other morph has black-and-white head stripes, as here. There is much individual variation. They all have white throats and are very common at many feeders in winter.

White-crowned Sparrows, Zonotrichia leucophrys, in their first winter have rufous brown head stripes

and no white throat.

The dramatic adult White-crowned Sparrow has beautiful black head stripes and a white central crown stripe.

White-throated Sparrows are migrating and coming to bird feeders across much of the country now. Somewhat less common here in NH, White-crowned Sparrows are also migrating and coming to feeders. Both these species winter across much of the country and you may have them at your bird feeders all winter. We recently had 5 first-winter White-crowned Sparrows at our feeder amongst the many, many White-throated Sparrows.

These sparrows love to feed on the ground on millet or seed mixes containing millet. We make a special sparrow feeder by building a big brush pile and sprinkling the seed in front and under the pile. It's a sparrow magnet and provides perching spots and cover from predators. The big bonus for us is that we get to see lots of fall sparrows.

If you live in the far western part of the country, you will get lovely Golden-crowned Sparrows visiting your bird feeders. They have a golden forecrown, surrounded on the front and sides by black or brown.

All these sparrow species are in the genus Zonotrichia. In yesterday's post we discussed the characteristics of the sparrows in the Melospiza genus as stated in our new The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. In our guide, p. 656, we discuss the Zonotrichia genus and say these are "large deep-bellied, broad-necked sparrows with a fairly small conical bill, rounded crown and fairly long, slightly notched tail." In addition to White-throated, Golden and White-crowned Sparrows, the Zonotrichia genus includes Harris's Sparrows.

Tip: Look at these sparrows through your binoculars at your bird feeder and learn the characteristics of the shape of each genus. You will get better at ID-ing them and it will set you up to learn the sparrows in other genera.


idbirds said...

Don't forget about us 'left coasters' - we have Golden-crowned Sparrows, and White-throated Sparrows are fairly rare around here, but when they are found they show up with the Golden-crowneds.

Lillian and Don Stokes said...

Yes, lucky you to have the beautiful Golden-crowneds at your feeders. We added that.

Birding is Fun! said...

I was delighted to see White-throated Sparrows this last week in Maryland. I was lucky to see only one in Boise before. They are beautiful sparrows. White-crowns are very cool too.