Golden-crowned Sparrow

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Common Name: Golden-crowned Sparrow
Scientific Name: Zonotrichia atricapilla

Size: 5.9 - 7.1 inches (15-18 cm)

Habitat: North America; along the western edge of North America. It is a migratory species, breeding from north-central Alaska (including the Aleutian Islands as far west as Unimak Island) and central Yukon south to the northwestern corner of the US state of Washington, and wintering from southern coastal Alaska to northern Baja California. It has been recorded as a vagrant in Japan and Russia, and the eastern coast of North America, from Nova Scotia to Florida.

In the winter, it is generally found in brushy areas, particularly chaparral, usually in dense shrubs.

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: Unknown amount of mature individuals. Populations appear to be stable and increasing. Throughout its range, it is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and many of its wintering grounds are in protected areas, including national forests and national wildlife refuges.

Diet: Its diet, particularly in the winter, consists primarily of plant material; items include seeds, berries, flowers and buds, as well as the occasional crawling insect. Paired birds commonly forage together, with the male following the female.

Nesting: Males and females are similarly plumaged, though males average slightly larger than females. Other than a plain gray nape, the adult's upper parts are grayish-brown, with broad brownish-black streaks on the back and scapulars, and unstreaked rump. It’s under parts are gray, slightly paler on the belly and buffier on the flanks. Its wings and tail are brown, and it shows two white wing bars. Its legs are pale brown, and its bill is dark, with the upper mandible darker than the lower.

In the breeding season, the Golden-crowned Sparrow has a broad yellow central crown stripe which becomes pale gray towards the back of the head. The size and color of a bird's crown patches are better predictors of dominance (indicating which bird will avoid confrontation with another) than are the bird's size or sex. Birds with similarly sized gold crown patches are far more likely to engage in agonistic behavior than are those showing differences, and the outcomes of such confrontations can be predicted based on the color of their black stripes. This suggests that social status in this species involves more complexity than a single signal will allow, and that the multiple color patches allow a gradient of interactions between flock mates.

The breeding season runs from late May through early August. Males on the breeding ground sing throughout the day from an exposed perch. The nest is a bulky cup built by the female. Located on the ground (or occasionally on a low branch), it is made of dried plant material and lined with hair, fine grasses and feathers. The female typically lays five eggs, though clutches of 3–5 have been recorded. The eggs, are pale green, oval and heavily spotted with reddish-brown. They are incubated by the female for 11–14 days. The young are born naked, blind and helpless and fledge from the nest within 12 days. Both parents feed the young.

Cool Facts: The Golden-crowned Sparrow arrives earlier and stays longer on its California wintering grounds than almost any other bird species. When day length increases in the spring, the Golden-crowned Sparrow detects the change through photoreceptors (light-sensitive cells). Its body responds by putting on fat and getting an urge to migrate.

This species is an important destroyer of weed seeds on the Pacific Coast, with various ryegrasses, fescues, bromes, pigweeds, chickweeds, mulleins, filarees, common knotweed and poison oak among its known food sources.

Miners in the Yukon at the turn of the twentieth century woefully referred to the Golden-crowned Sparrow as the “no gold here” bird, because its song resembled that depressing phrase. They also interpreted its song to say “I’m so tired,” prompting them to dub the bird “Weary Willie.”

The oldest Golden-crowned Sparrow on record was at least 10 years, 6 months old. It was caught by a bird bander in California and released.

Found in Songbird Remix Sparrows of the World

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