Scientific name: Zonotrichia leucophyrus

Characteristics: Most striking is the white and black stripes on the adult’s crown, with a white eyebrow line and black eye stripe. The light brown back has black stripes on the upper part and is solid brown on the lower portion and tail. The rufous-marked wings have two white wing bars. Undersides are grayish, but the throat and belly are whiter. Immature birds are similar but have reddish-brown head stripes. Adults average 6 inches in length.

Breeding: Builds a cup-shaped nest on the ground or in low vegetation. Usually lays 3-4 eggs, which the female incubates for about two weeks. Females may lay a second clutch of eggs in one season.

Range: Mostly a Western breeding species found from Alaska and Canada south to California and the Southwest, but range extends into eastern Canada. Some winter as far south as central Mexico and into the Midwest and eastern U.S. Breeds in Oregon mostly west of the Cascades and in the northeast corner; migrates through or winters in Central Oregon.

Habitat: Prefers brushy thickets over dense forests. Found along forest edges, riparian thickets, aspen stands, residential areas, and along lakes, rivers and streams.

Food: Feeds on the ground or in low shrubs on insects, spiders, leaves, seeds, catkins, berries and fruits; will visit bird feeders, as well.

Comments: White-crowned sparrows have been extensively studied due to their geographic variation and song. The males feed the fledglings while the female lays a second clutch of eggs; in some southern locations the females may have up to four broods a year. Leucophyrus is from the Greek words for “white eyebrow.” Very melodious song. These birds are one of the most studied songbirds because of their singing. Males learn songs from their parents and show regional dialects. A male on the edge of its range may learn two dialects and end up being “bilingual.”

Current Viewing: City parks, backyards, Hatfield Ponds, Deschutes River, Smith Rock.

— Damian Fagan is an East Cascades Audubon Society volunteer and COCC Community Learning instructor. He can be reached at

Sources: Oregon Department of Wildlife Resources and “The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds” by John Terres