Bird Feeder Hub is reader-supported. When you click and buy we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you.

14 Facts About White-Throated Sparrows

White-throated sparrows can be seen across much of North America, and they are relatively easy to identify compared to some of their other sparrow cousins. With their recognizable song and habit of visiting backyard bird feeders, these cute sparrows are well-loved by many bird watchers. Here are 14 interesting facts you many not have known about white-throated sparrows.

1. Their white throat patch gives the white-throated sparrow its name.

As you might suspect from their name, the white-throated sparrow does indeed have a white throat. It is a clearly defined white patch that sits below their beak, but does not extend down to the breast. All adults have this white throat patch, and it is the easiest way to tell them apart from other sparrow species. 

2. White-throated sparrows come in two color forms.

White throated Sparrow
Two color forms of the White-throated Sparrow

Females and males do not have different plumage based on their sex, however adults of either sex can take on two color forms. The difference in these two color forms is on their head.

There is the “white-crowned” variety that has a crisp white throat, and head stripes in bold black and white with a bright yellow spot above the beak. The “tan-crowned” variety has the same pattern only a little more dull. The head stripes are dark brown and tan, and the yellow spot above the beak is often much less obvious. The white throat patch on the tan-crowned variety is also sometimes more off-white and less defined. 

So if you’ve seen these two slightly different looking variations and assumed one was male and one was female or that the duller one was a juvenile, that would be incorrect. There are both male and female white-crowned forms, and male and female tan-crowned forms. 

3. These two color-forms are found side by side.

Most of the time, when a bird species has more than one distinct color form, they are separated by geographic location. However the white-crowned and tan-crowned varieties are found side by side across their range. In fact, a white-crowned variety almost always pairs up to mate with a tan-crowned variety! Either a white male with tan female, or white female with tan male. 

4. The different colored white-throated sparrows have different behaviors.

One more fascinating fact about these two color varieties is that after years of research, it has been discovered that they exhibit different behaviors!

The white variety tends to be more aggressive, with even white females helping to defend territory. White males sing more frequently than tan males, and white females sing too. 

The tan variety tends to be more nurturing. Tan males sing less than white males, and tan females rarely sing at all. Tan females don’t help defend territory like the white females do. The tan variety of both sexes bring more food to their young than the white variety.

When it comes to mate preference, overall females of either color prefer tan males, while males of either variety tend to prefer white females. Quite an intricate social structure, and the mix creates the best of both worlds – protective and nurturing.

white throated sparrow perched
White-throated Sparrow | image by:

5. White-throated sparrows have a distinct song they use all year.

Known for their distinct whistle-like songs, with a cadence of “oh-sweet-canada-canada” or “old-sam-peabody-peabody”. Whatever pitch they start the song with tends to go either up or down on the second note, then stay steady.

The breeding season is when they sing most often, however they continue to sing in the winter. Not many of our common backyard birds here in the U.S. sing during the winter. The white-throated sparrow’s clear whistle stands out and is a familiar sound in the winter landscape.

6. White-throated sparrows migrate between Canada and the U.S.

With the exception of some of the most northern states, white-throated sparrows spend their summer breeding season across Canada. A small pocket remains in New England year-round. But most people in the U.S. think of these sparrows as winter birds. By late fall they have moved down into most of the eastern U.S., across into Texas and the southwest, and even along the west coast. They stay through the winter, heading back to Canada in the spring. They often head north with other northern-breeding species like the dark-eyed junco.

7. White-throated sparrows often nest on the ground.

White-throated sparrows are crafty builders, constructing their nests from grass, wood chips, pine needles, deer fur, and twigs. The female sparrow creates these cup-shaped nests in a depression in the ground. They are usually hidden beneath grasses, shrubs, or ferns, and they may even make them underneath the previous year’s dead vegetation. 

White-throated sparrow foraging
White-throated sparrow (tan form) foraging | image by Tony Sprezzatura via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

8. White-throated sparrows adapt to nest predation.

These sparrows do sometimes nest above ground level, about 15 feet up in pine and other coniferous trees. Usually, this is a result of a failed first attempt. As a ground nester, it is easier for cats, snakes, raccoons, opossums, foxes, weasels and other predators to find them. If their first nest of the season gets raided by a predator they will try again, but the second time will opt for a potentially safer spot higher off the ground.

9. White-throated sparrows are mainly seed eaters, except when breeding.

The diet of the white-throated sparrow primarily consists of seeds, especially from weeds and grasses. They also eat fruits and berries, and in the summer include a lot of insects. Beetles, ants, flies, spiders, wasps, and caterpillars are all on the menu during the breeding season. Their babies are fed mainly insects as well until they leave the nest.

In the winter, they do a lot more foraging for seeds and berries. Thankfully, this means they are pretty easy to attract to bird feeders! Most types of mixed seeds are fine, especially millet and black sunflower. They will perch on feeder, but most often like to eat seeds from the ground.

10. White-throated sparrow eggs are blue and speckled. 

The female white-throated sparrow lays, on average, four eggs each year. These eggs are greenish-blue or pale-blue with specks of purple or reddish brown. The female will incubate the eggs for about 12 days.

Once hatched, both the male and female white-throated sparrow will feed the babies until it is time for them to leave the nest, which is typically between 7 and 12 days.

white throated sparrow mixed flock
Group of white-throated sparrows foraging for seeds with cardinals | image:

11. White-throated sparrows only pair up for one season.

When it comes to matters of the heart, white-throated sparrows are considered socially monogamous. What this means is that these birds typically bond for the breeding season, but will pair up with a new mate the next season.

12. The ground is the main place white-throated sparrows forage.

The white-throated sparrow typically finds its food on the ground, or the lower branches of vegetation. These ground foragers use a fast, double-foot kick to move leaf litter aside looking for seeds and insects on the ground.

This doesn’t mean, however, that this sparrow won’t grab a quick snack in mid-air. Far from it. White-throated sparrows are also known to snatch flying insects out of the sky. 

13. White-throated sparrows use magnetic orientation during migration.

The white-throated sparrow has an internal GPS! Scientists believe their brain has an internal magnetic compass that helps guide them during their migration. Magnetic orientation doesn’t rely on clear skies, good weather or sunlight, making it a reliable method.

Like many other migratory birds, the white-throated sparrow travels at night. This gives them the opportunity to fuel up during the daylight hours. 

14. White-throated sparrows sometimes hybridize with juncos

White-throated sparrows can sometimes mate with dark-eyed juncos, which are also members of the sparrow family. These sparrows and juncos use the same breeding grounds, and often travel together in mixed flocks during the winter. The offspring these two species produce is a hybrid sparrow that either looks like a duller and more gray white-throated sparrow, or something that looks like a junco with a white throat.

Leave a Comment