BioKIDS home

Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

white-throated sparrow

Zonotrichia albicollis

What do they look like?

White-throated sparrows are small birds. The head has black stripes on top, with grey below and on the sides. Some adults have tan between the black stripes, while others have white. Young birds in their first year always have tan on the head and have dark streaks on a pale chest and belly.

There are bright yellow blotches between the bill and the eyes on both males and females. True to their name, these sparrows have a "white-throat" with a black border, and a whitish belly. The back is brown with dark streaks and the wings are reddish-brown. White-throated sparrows have dark brown bills and pink legs. Females and males look very similar; female colors are only slightly duller than males.

White-crowned sparrows are other birds that look very similar, but do not have white throats and dark bills.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male more colorful
  • Average mass
    26 g
    0.92 oz
  • Average mass
    21.1 g
    0.74 oz
  • Average length
    17 cm
    6.69 in
  • Average wingspan
    22.86 cm
    9.00 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.278 W

Where do they live?

White-throated sparrows are native only to the Nearctic region. During the summer, white-throated sparrows generally breed from northwestern Canada including Central Quebec and Newfoundland, all the way eastward to Minnesota and the Great Lakes, and southward to New England. Most white-throated sparrows migrate south to spend the winter in the eastern United States, ranging from New England in the north to northern Mexico in the south. A very small number of birds migrate to west Oregon, occupying the Columbia and Klamath River Basins.

What kind of habitat do they need?

White-throated sparrows are found mainly in coniferous forests and northern decidious forests. In the winter they can also be found off the western coasts of Oregon, as well as in dry deserts in the state of Texas. They favor partially open wooded areas that have shrubby growth or brush. White-throated sparrows love to hide in brushy fencerows, in blackberry tangles, forest edges, shrubby willows, and even borders of swamps with a dense overgrowth of brush.

How do they reproduce?

White-throated sparrows have their babies after the adult birds migrate north in the spring and have settled into northwestern Canada and northeastern United States. The birds build open-cup nests (shaped like a cup) in small trees or shrubs or on the ground. They prefer partially open shrubby areas or forests, mostly at the edges of clearings. Females lay 3 to 6 eggs, usually 4. Only the female sits on the eggs to keep them warm (called incubating the eggs). It takes approximately 3-4 weeks for the chicks to hatch. About 9 days after hatching the young birds can begin leaving the nest, which is called fledging.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Usually females only lay eggs once each year, but sometimes after the first brood has left the nest, a female will lay eggs again and raise a second brood of chicks.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs each spring.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 6
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    3 to 4 weeks
  • Range fledging age
    7 to 12 days
  • Average fledging age
    9 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Newborn sparrows are helpless when they hatch. They do not have feathers, so they do not have one of the most important forms of insulation to keep warm and need to rely on their parents. They stay in the nest, waiting for both parents to feed them.

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

How long do they live?

A white-throated sparrow banded in the United States lived at least 9 years and 8 months.

How do they behave?

White-throated sparrows migrate, flying south in the winter and north in the summer to breed. They tend to fly with other sparrows and juncos in groups called flocks.

How do they communicate with each other?

The voice or call of white-throated sparrows sounds like they are saying "Poor Sam Peabody." They use an array of other vocalizations as well.

White-throated sparrows have keen vision and hearing.

What do they eat?

White-throated sparrows are omnivores. Their diet consists of seeds, fruits, and insects. Seeds come from the floor of forests, in bushy clearings and hidden in grasses and weeds. These sparrows also feed on wild fruits from blackberry tangles and shrubs. Insects are eaten when they are available; parents also feed insects to their chicks.

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Sparrow eggs, chicks, and even adults are vulnerable to many mammal and bird predators. A few are listed below. To avoid predators, they rely on cryptic coloration (camouflage) and the ability to fly. White-throated sparrow nests are always near trees, stumps, or logs. Sparrows use these places as perches to look out for predators.

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

White-throated sparrows are important members of their ecosystems, being important both as seed dispersers and predators and as prey to larger mammals and birds.

Do they cause problems?

White-throated sparrows do not adversely affect humans, except perhaps by eating seeds and grain.

How do they interact with us?

White-throated sparrows are beneficial to humans because they consume numerous insects that they find in trees, bushes, or shrubs. Eating certain insects that might cause harm to such trees, bushes or shrubs, protects the plants that people cultivate.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

White-throated Sparrows are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.


Andrea Galanti (author), University of California, Irvine, Rudi Berkelhamer (editor), University of California, Irvine.


Anderson, W. 1994. "Zonotrichia albicollis: White-Throated Sparrow" (On-line). Accessed October 30, 2000 at

Brown, D. 1996. "Life History: Zonotrochia albicollis" (On-line). Accessed October 30, 2000 at

Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. The Birds Handbook: A Field Guide to Natural History of North American Birds. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc..

Gilligan, H. 1994. Zonotrichia abicollis. Littleton, CO: Westfield Publishing Company, Inc..

Peterson, B. 1987. Abundance and Distribution of Birds in Canada. Canada Biological Survey, Biological Notes #19: 56-59.

Robbins, C., B. Bruun, H. Zim. 1996. Birds of North America. New York, NY: Western Publishing Company, Inc..

Robbins, N. 1992. Breeding in White-Throated Sparrow. Journal of North American Birds, Conder 94, V21: 336-343.

Slivoski, J. 1998. "White-throated Sparrow" (On-line). Accessed October 24, 2000 at

Wheye, D. 2000. "Birds of Stanford:White-throated Sparrow" (On-line). Accessed 4 April 2002 at

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

BioKIDS home  |  Questions?  |  Animal Diversity Web  |  Cybertracker Tools

Galanti, A. 2002. "Zonotrichia albicollis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 03, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
Copyright © 2002-2024, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

University of Michigan