For Leonard and I, a sure sign that winter is approaching is the return of white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys). These distinctive sparrows with their black and white heads and pink or yellowish beaks summer in higher latitudes and winter throughout most of the United States and Mexico. Two races of white-crowned sparrows provide the exception to the rule as they reside year-round in areas of the mountains or along the coast in the West.
These winter residents live in brushy areas near overgrown fields or other other areas where they can find the seeds of grasses and weeds. White-crowned sparrows also “glean” grain crop fields. Insects or occasionally leftover fruits such as elderberries round out their diet. Backyard feeders also prove attractive to white-crowned sparrows.
Hopping along the ground, white-crowned sparrows scratch amid the litter searching for food, always close to the safety of nearby trees or shrubs. They also forage in low branches.
This white-crowned sparrow was photographed near Medicine Lake (Siskiyou County CA).