Bird Bio: Golden-crowned Sparrow

By Bob Frey, KBO Biologist and Banding Project LeaderThe Golden-crowned Sparrow is known for its distinctive golden crown stripe. Photo by Jim Livaudais © 2011.

Remember Flower Power – a slogan used as a symbol of passive resistance and non-violent ideology in the 1960s? The Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla) is a big believer— flowers are very nearly all it eats! Studies have found that plant material makes up 95% to 97% of this songbird’s natural diet, with flowers comprising up to 50% of this.

This large sparrow of the north country nests exclusively in Alaska and western
Canada, on the ground in habitats above the treeline. It is found in western California, Oregon, and Washington only during the winter, spring, and fall seasons. The Golden-crowned Sparrow is a common feeder bird, though preferring to forage on the ground, often flocking with other sparrows. Dark-streaked brown upperparts, light-brownish underparts, a long tail, and a distinctive yellow (golden) crown distinguish it from others in the lowland brush or field edges it frequents. The yellow crown is bordered with dark stripes and is most bright in mature individuals.

The scientific genus name Zonotrichia is Greek for “bird with bands,” an allusion to the crown stripes – from zone for band (or stripe), and trichias for small bird. The species name atricapilla is Latin for “black hairs”, coined from ater or atri for black and capillus for hair, referring to the black bordered crown.

Although there is some evidence of this species increasing in number, there is concern that not enough is known, and that monitoring is insufficient in its northern range—an important challenge for researchers and land managers. The data that KBO collects from Golden-crowned Sparrows captured in the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion during the migration and winter seasons contribute greatly to our understanding of this species’ conservation status in North America.

Sources: Marshall et al., eds. 2003. Birds of Oregon: A general reference. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, Oregon; Gruson 1972. Words for birds: A lexicon of North American birds with biographical notes. Quadrangle Books, Inc., New York, New York; Martin et al. 1951. American wildlife and plants: A guide to wildlife food habits. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, New York; Rich et al. 2004.
Partners in Flight North American Landbird Conservation Plan. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.

This article appears in KBO’s Spring 2011 Newsletter. 


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