Not Just Pretty Birds

Lately White-Crowned Sparrows are showing up in the park in growing numbers.  Like finches and blackbirds and others, they’re busy feeding up in the fennel crowns.  They’ll also eat seeds off the ground and snatch bugs of all kinds wherever they find them.  The adults have bright white stripes on the crown and sides of their heads.  In juveniles (as I found out with much laughable effort) the stripes are brown and dull grey.  These are well known and popular birds that will also come to backyard feeders occasionally.  They’re not just pretty birds, however.  Scientists have discovered that they have amazing energy and endurance, see below.

The Cornell bird lab website has these “Cool Facts” about White-crowned Sparrows:

  • A young male White-crowned Sparrow learns the basics of the song it will sing as an adult during the first two or three months of its life. It does not learn directly from its father, but rather from the generalized song environment of its natal neighborhood.
  • A migrating White-crowned Sparrow was once tracked moving 300 miles in a single night. Alaskan White-crowned Sparrows migrate about 2,600 miles to winter in Southern California.
  • Scientists interested in movement and energetics have discovered that White-crowned Sparrows can run on a treadmill at a pace of about one-third of a mile an hour without tiring out.
  • White-crowned Sparrows will share their territories with Fox Sparrows, but chase Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos until they leave.
  • Male White-crowned Sparrows do most of the singing, but sometimes females also sing. They usually do this while contesting breeding territories or a winter food source. Their songs are quieter and more variable than male’s songs.
  • Because male White-crowned Sparrows learn the songs they grow up with and typically breed close to where they were raised, song dialects frequently form. Males on the edge of two dialects may be bilingual and able to sing both dialects.
  • The oldest recorded White-crowned Sparrow lived in California and was at least 13 years, 4 months old.

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