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White-throated sparrows are a common and familiar songbird and a backyard favorite during winter in the Eastern United States. They are striking little birds, brown in color with bold markings on their face and a bright spot of yellow under their eye. They’re true to their name and have a white patch covering their throat.
In this field guide, you will know what to look for, listen for, and learn to love this little bird a little bit more.
|Habitat||Coniferous and deciduous forests|
|Diet||Seeds, fruit, and insects|
|Nesting||Reproduce seasonally, mainly in spring. Female builds nests|
|Conservation||Common and widespread|
|Scientific name||Zonotrichea albicollis|
The White Throated Sparrow is a small bird measuring between 2.6 and 2.9 inches long. They have distinct markings on their face defined by a white throat patch, with a dark beak and yellow eyes. Their crowns are white with a black stripe that runs down the center. The top part of their body is striped, while the underparts are a soft grey. The females and the younger birds are duller in appearance.
White-throated sparrows breed in northwestern Canada, including Central Quebec and Newfoundland. They also breed in Minnesota and New England during the summer. Most white-throated sparrows spend the winter in the eastern United States, from New England in the north to northern Mexico in the south.
White-throated sparrows prefer semi-open wooded areas with shrubby growth or brush but are primarily found in coniferous and northern deciduous forests, especially in summer. You will find them up in the tree lines in low but dense vegetation openings.
They are usually areas that are regrowing from fire or logging damage or the edges of meadows or ponds. You can spot them in backyards, parks, thickets, and hedgerows in winter and during migration. Some can even be found in the deserts of Texas in winter.
White-throated sparrows tend to flock with other sparrows. When the white-throated sparrow is on the ground, they are seen hopping rather than walking. They take short flights between branches when foraging and fly with rapid wing beats. They use both feet to scratch through the leaves and use their heads to toss them aside.
Males are aggressive during the breeding season, chasing each other off their territories, and they are usually dominant over the females.
White-throated sparrows are omnivores, and their diet consists of insects, fruits, and seeds. They usually forage their seeds from the floors of forests and weeds and grasses. They enjoy fruits from shrubs and blackberry tangles. When their young are still in the nest, they feed them insects exclusively.
White-throated sparrows will breed monogamously for the breeding season but not necessarily for life. They will find their breeding partner quickly and will usually forage together. In the breeding season, the male will return to their breeding range 2 weeks ahead of the females to establish their nesting territories.
The female will build the nest on her own using materials such as twigs, pine needles, grasses, and deer fur. She constructs it close to the ground, covered by vegetation like the edge of a thicket. These nests are usually second attempts after a predator robs the first nest. Her eggs are a pale shade of green-blue and dotted with purple and brown speckles. She will usually lay up to 6 eggs, and the young will leave the nest about 7 to 12 days after being hatched.
The white-throated sparrow uses a variety of sounds, but their sweet whistles sound like “Poor Sam Peabody” or “Oh sweet Canada.” The whole note lasts for about four seconds, and the whistle’s pitch moves slightly up or down.
Look on the ground in the woods or on brushy edges. In winter, they forage in large flocks and, when foraging on the ground, look for its double-footed kick, which it uses to push aside leaf litter as it scratches for seeds. You will also see it pouncing at times on crawling insects.
The White-throated sparrow arrives from early October to mid-May, and the winter weather may invite them to your backyard.
From late fall to mid-spring, White-throated sparrows can be found in backyards and around bird feeders across the eastern United States. To entice a white-throated sparrow, a yard must provide adequate food, water, shelter, and nesting sites in order for them to feel secure and comfortable in its habitat.
Here are some tips and tricks to attract the white-throated sparrow to your backyard:
Offer sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn directly on your lawn or a low platform feeder. Natural food sources include seed-bearing flowers and grasses. As part of bird-friendly landscaping, leave the leaf litter alone and plant berry bushes to provide more food sources for sparrows.
The birds will be more attracted to low-water baths and should be near a shrub or shelter, so they feel safe.
Birdhouses with a proper-sized entrance hole will attract the sparrows. Trees are also great nesting spots, and providing nesting materials around the yard can help them build their own nests.
Thick shrubbery will help the white-throated sparrow feel safe. Create shelter corridors throughout the yard to provide them with secure pathways where they can feel safe without being confined to one small space.
The population of the white-throated sparrow is slowly declining. Its population decreased by approximately 33% between 1966 and 2019. One of the reasons for its decline in numbers is window collisions. They also migrate at night and are occasionally killed by collisions with tall structures and buildings.
Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 160 million, indicating that their conservation is not of high concern.
White-throated sparrows are a backyard favorite, frequently visiting feeders during winter. They are easy to spot, especially when they sing their popular tunes. They enjoy insects, seeds, and fruit, and during breeding, they are loyal to their partner. They are easily enticed into backyards with the right food and shelter. Although their numbers are declining, the species has a stable population.
Featured Image Credit: Piqsels
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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