Daves Nature Photos(Articles/A Sparrow with Head Stripes)

A Sparrow with Head Stripes

by Dave Hanks

In the southwestern states, this bird has a nick name. It’s called a “skunk head”, which is a fitting description. The species real name is White-Crowned Sparrow. This numerous bird spends the summers either in the far north or, more locally, at higher elevations. If you feed birds, it will be very abundant in your yard in autumn and winter. Flocks will contain many immature individuals that have yet to develop the characteristic white and black stripes on the head. Instead, the stripes will be a rusty color.

This bird is six inches long, which is big for a sparrow. Both sexes look alike, although the male is slightly larger. There is a tendency to confuse this species with the White-Throated and immature Golden-Crowned Sparrows. Skunk-head behavior, and silhouettes, off-times remind me of a towhee – long tailed, scratching, and scurrying under the bushes.

Its song is a clear whistle followed by buzzes. A young bird learns to sing in the first two or three months of its life, and it learns the song heard in its natal region. Each local group will frequently have its own particular dialect. Where ranges overlap, a bird may be bilingual.

White-Crowned Sparrows nest in brushy habitats that border grasslands. This would account for their presence at high, sparsely-treed mountain regions or the treeless far north. There are five sub-species spread over this wide geographical range.

Sparrows are in the family Fringillidae (specialized seed eaters). The family is large (65 species), varied, and abundant. Most folks don’t get excited over “little brown birds” that are hard to tell apart. But this bird is interesting. A colorful head, perky behavior, and a delightful song make it so.

(Perched in a Creosote bush)