White-throated Sparrow

Zonotrichia albicollis

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Where you live in the eastern United States determines when you get to enjoy this on-the-move songbird. White-throated Sparrows breed in Canada, into the northern Great Lakes states, and along the Appalachian ridge to northern New Jersey. The common denominator as to where they are found in the summer is evergreen trees.

They prefer to nest around the edges of coniferous and mixed hardwood/conifer forests. In the United States, nesting is limited to higher elevations where evergreens are present. In winter months they have migrated south and can be seen throughout the southeastern states. At this time of the year, they often choose suburban yards, and even urban parks within which to forage for food. White-throated Sparrows readily come to feeders. During spring and fall migration, those backyard hobbyists in between the summer and winter ranges have their opportunity to observe this beautiful sparrow.

Distinctive field marks of the White-throated Sparrow include black and white crown stripes, yellow lores (area in front of the eyes), a bright, white throat, a brown and black streaked back, and a clear, grey breast, and white belly. A second “color morph” of the bird has similar field marks with the exception that the head pattern alternates between tan and brown rather than white and black.

The song is lovely and distinctive. It begins with a long, steady whistle, then a second, higher-pitched note, followed by a three-parted cadence,repeated twice. The mnemonic for the song is: “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody” (when they are in the U.S.) or “Oh Sweet Canada, Canada” (when they are with our friends to the north). Males use this beautiful song to establish a breeding territory with the resulting nest often located in shrubs, blueberry bushes being a favorite.

White-throats are seed-eaters who spend most of their time foraging on the ground. Watch as they search leaf litter by kicking with both feet to uncover food. At feeders their preferred seed is white proso millet. Other small seeds such as canary seed, small yellow millet, and fine cracked corn are also consumed. Natural forage includes the seeds of many grasses and weeds, and berries and small fruits. During breeding season, these sparrows switch to insects, which they feed to their hatchlings.

A platform feeder placed close to the ground and filled with Aspen Song® Value Blend is an ideal combination for attracting these and other native sparrow species.

Reference: Falls, J. B. and J. G. Kopachena. 1994. White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.