White-throated Sparrow

By Julie Jansen

A handsome bird that has recently moved back in our area from the boreal forest across Canada is the white-throated sparrow. They are easily recognizable with their striking head pattern. The black-and-white-striped head is augmented by a bright white throat and yellow lores (feathers in front of the eye) and the bill, which is gray. You'll also see a less boldly marked form, known as "tan-striped," with a buff-on-brown face pattern instead of white-onblack.

White-throated Sparrows like to stay near the ground, scratching through leaves in search of food, often in flocks. You may see them low in bushes as well, particularly in spring when they eat fresh buds. White-throated Sparrows sing their distinctive songs frequently, even in winter, which is a wavering whistle of "Old Sam Peabody-Peabody-Peabody."

White-throated Sparrows will readily visit feeders or peck at fallen seeds beneath them. They feed on millet as well as sunflower seeds. If you make a brush pile in your yard it will give White-throated Sparrows a place to take cover in between trips out into your yard to feed.

The two color morphs (tan-striped or white-striped heads) may be either male or female; adults almost always mate with the opposite color morph. There are a few differences between the two color morphs: White-striped males are usually more aggressive and do more singing than tan-striped males. White-striped females also sing, but tan-striped females usually do not. Pairs involving a tan-striped male and white-striped female usually form more quickly than those of the opposite combination. Got that? I'm glad the birds can keep this straight!

Nest site are usually on the ground, well hidden by low shrubs (such as blueberry), grass, or ferns. Sometimes they nest above ground in shrubs, brush piles, or low trees, rarely up to 10' high. Nest (built by female) is open cup made of grass, twigs, and weeds, pine needles, lined with fine grass, rootlets, and animal hair. The male sings to defend nesting territory.

Look for this striking sparrow this winter by your feeder or if you are taking a walk in the woods. You will recognize it by its bright white throat and distinctive song. Sources: allaboutbirds.org,