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During winter, there are three migratory birds we can expect to see more often in California before they return to the tundra and shrublands of British Columbia and Alaska. Some breeds of White-crowned sparrows, however, spend all year in the West Coast.

Golden-Crowned Sparrow

The Golden-crowned Sparrow sports a bright yellow crown flanked with black bars covering part of the eyes. The wings are also brightly-patterned with white bars. During migration and winter, the Golden-crowned Sparrow can be seen on the ground in the open, feeding on the seeds of grasses and weeds as well as berries. Insects are a key food source during summer.

The Golden-crowned sparrow is known for its mournful song, prompting Yukon minors to dub the bird “Weary Willie.” It spends more time in its California wintering home than most other bird species.

Lark Sparrow

A number of bold features distinguish the Lark Sparrow from other birds, including a long tail with

white triangles, a clear white breast with a black dot and an alternating chestnut, white and black head pattern. During breeding season, males sing from perches, strutting back and forth on the ground to attract females. The Lark Sparrow feeds mostly on seeds during the winter, but in summer eats insects as well as seeds.

Unlike other songbirds, the Lark Sparrow walks on the ground, hopping only during courtship. Instead of building its own nests, it often takes over unused mockingbird nests.

White-Crowned Sparrow

The White-crowned Sparrow can easily be identified by the black and white stripes on its head, a grey breast, long tail and wings marked with white bars. They can be found in flocks, fanning out in open ground to feed near sheltering bushes, hopping through low foliage and using a two-footed scratching maneuver to locate food. During winter, White-Crowned sparrows eat seeds, grains and insects, although insects make up a large part of the diet during the breeding season. Although populations are still large, they’ve declined by a third since 1966.

During spring, you may hear the bird’s thin whistle. Male White-crowned Sparrows do most of the singing, and they learn the songs in the first few months of life.

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