The voice or call of white-throated sparrows sounds like they are saying "Poor Sam Peabody." They use an array of other vocalizations as well.
White-throated sparrows have keen vision and hearing.
Communication Channels: acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
White-throated Sparrows are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.
US Migratory Bird Act: protected
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
Although the white-throated sparrow does not have direct affects on humans for competition for food or habitat, Zonotrichia albicollis may affect humans by consumption of seeds that might otherwise produce plants that are useful to humans.
Zonotrichia albicollis are beneficial to humans because they consume numerous insects that they find in trees, bushes, or shrubs. Eating certain insects that might cause harm to such trees, bushes or shrubs, protects the plants from disease, which indeed benefits humans and aids in the production of more plants.
Positive Impacts: controls pest population
White-throated sparrows are important members of their ecosystems, being important both as seed dispersers and predators and as prey to larger mammals and birds.
Zonotrichia albicollis, like almost all members of Aves, are omnivores. Their diet consists of seeds, fruits, and insects. Seeds come from the floor of forests and bushy clearings. The white-throated sparrow also finds seeds hidden in grasses and weeds. Zonotrichia albicollis also feed on wild fruits from blackberry tangles, shrubbery, and insects when available and feed young in the nest almost exclusively insects.
Animal Foods: insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit
Primary Diet: omnivore
During the summer, white-throated sparrows generally breed from northwestern Canada including Central Quebec and Newfoundland, all the way eastward to Minnesota and the Great Lakes, and southward to New England. In the winter, most white-throated sparrows overwinter in the eastern United States, ranging from New England in the north to northern Mexico in the south. In addition, a very small number of Zonotrichia albicollis migrate to West Oregon, occupying the Columbia and Klamath River Basins.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )
Zonotrichia albicollis is found mainly in coniferous forests and northern decidious forests. In the winter they can also be found off the western coasts of Oregon, as well as in dry deserts in Texas. Zonotrichia albicollis favors semi-open wooded areas that have sufficient and shrubby growth or brush. White-throated sparrows love to hide in brushy fencerows, in Himalayan blackberry tangles, forest edges, shrubby willows, and even borders of swamps with a dense overgrowth of brush.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; scrub forest
A white-throated sparrow banded in the United States lived at least 9 years and 8 months.
Status: wild: 10 (high) years.
Status: wild: 116 months.
White-throated sparrows are approximately 2.6 - 2.9 cm long. The head has tan and black stripes on top, with grey below and on the sides of the head. Adults have both tan and white stripes, as opposed to first year birds which only have tan stripes but are heavily streaked underneath. White-throated sparrows are sexually dimorphic, meaning the male and female are somewhat different. There are small variations in the coloration between the males and females. Male sparrows have darker stripes on the head and brighter yellow blotches.
Between the bill and the eyes, on both males and females, there are bright yellow blotches. Zonotrichia albicollis has a "white-throat" with a black border, and a whitish belly. The back is brown with dark streaks and the wings are also brown. White-throated sparrows have dark bills and pink legs. The dark bill separates it from similar white-crowned sparrows.
Average mass: 26 g.
Average length: 17 cm.
Average wingspan: 22.86 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male more colorful
Average mass: 21.1 g.
Average basal metabolic rate: 0.278 W.
Sparrow eggs, chicks, and even adults are vulnerable to many mammal and bird predators. A few are listed below. To avoid predators, they rely on cryptic coloration (camouflage) and the ability to fly. White-throated sparrow nests are always near trees, stumps, or logs. Sparrows use these places as perches to look out for predators.
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
White-throated sparrows reproduce seasonally, mainly during the spring when they have settled into northwestern Canada and northeastern United States. Zonotrichia albicollis lay 3 to 6 eggs, usually 4, in open-roofed nests they build for their young.
Young sparrows can breed in the first year after hatching.
Breeding interval: Usually females only lay eggs once each year, but sometimes after the first brood has left the nest, a female will lay eggs again and raise a second brood of chicks.
Breeding season: Breeding occurs each spring.
Range eggs per season: 3 to 6.
Average eggs per season: 4.
Range time to hatching: 3 to 4 weeks.
Range fledging age: 7 to 12 days.
Average fledging age: 9 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Average eggs per season: 5.
It takes approximately 3 to 4 weeks for the young chick to hatch. Even then, first born sparrows are not well developed; they are altricial, missing feathers, one of the most important forms of insulation. Without feathers, Zonotrichia albicollis cannot fly. The newborn sparrow stays in the nest, waiting for its both parents to feed it and attend to its every need. It fledges 8 or 9 days after it hatches.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)
The white-throated sparrow is a passerine bird of the New World sparrow family Passerellidae. It measures 15 to 19 cm (5.9 to 7.5 in) in length with a wingspan of 23 cm (9.1 in). Typical weight is 22 to 32 g (0.78 to 1.13 oz), with an average of 26 g (0.92 oz). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 6.3 to 7.9 cm (2.5 to 3.1 in), the tail is 6.8 to 7.7 cm (2.7 to 3.0 in), the bill is 1 to 1.2 cm (0.39 to 0.47 in) and the tarsus is 2.2 to 2.4 cm (0.87 to 0.94 in). They are similar in appearance to the white-crowned sparrow, but with white throat markings and yellow lores.
There are two adult plumage variations known as the tan-striped and white-striped forms. On the white-striped form the crown is black with a white central stripe. The supercilium is white as well. The auriculars are gray with the upper edge forming a black eye line.
On the tan form, the crown is dark brown with a tan central stripe. The supercilium is tan as well. The auriculars are gray/light brown with the upper edge forming a brown eye line. Both variations feature dark eyes, a white throat, yellow lores and gray bill. There is variation and some individuals may show dark lateral stripes of each side of the throat.
They almost always pair with the opposite color morph for breeding. The two color morphs occur in approximately equal numbers. Both male and female white-striped birds are more aggressive than tan-striped birds during the breeding season. The aggression is because of high level of estrogen receptor alpha in white-striped birds.
The breast has gray/tan streaks and the streaks continue down the flanks but the belly is generally light gray. The wings are rufous with two distinct white wing bars. Sexes are morphologically similar.
White-throated sparrows breed in central Canada and New England. They nest either on the ground under shrubs or low in trees in deciduous or mixed forest areas and lay three to five brown-marked blue or green-white eggs.
The tan and white morphs of white-throated sparrows use different reproductive strategies. Tan males invest in parental care and guard their mates from others searching for extra pair copulations (EPCs). White males invest in securing additional mates and EPCs through song advertisement and intruding into neighboring territory. Female morphs have similar differences, where tan females invest in parental care and white females solicit EPCs and engage in brood parasitism, leaving their eggs in another's nest to be raised and fed. Mating with the opposite morphs and using alternative reproductive strategies helps maintain competitive equilibrium.
In winter, this species migrates to the southern and eastern United States. They are differential migrants with females migrating farther, increasing the proportion of females at lower latitudes in the Atlantic flyway. Females are smaller so they would not perform as optimally at colder, higher latitudes, and females avoid competition with the dominant males of the winter hierarchies by migrating farther. There is also no benefit for females to be among the first to return after winter, so migrating farther allows the males to return and establish territory a few weeks before their arrival. It stays year round in the Atlantic provinces of Canada. This bird is a rare vagrant to western Europe. Alongside some other species such as the cardinal, dark-eyed junco, song sparrow and chickadees, this species ranks among the most abundant native birds during winter in eastern North America.
Despite a high level of con-specific rivalry within white-throated sparrows, this species is often dominated by other seed-eating winter residents, even those that are no larger than itself like the song sparrow, and thus may endure high levels of predation while foraging since restricted to sub-optimal sites at times by competition. Not to mention numerous mammalian carnivores, at least ten avian predators often hunt them and they are among the most regular prey species for some smaller raptors, i.e. the sharp-shinned hawk and eastern screech-owl.
These birds forage on the ground under or near thickets or in low vegetation. They mainly eat seeds, insects and berries, and are attracted to bird feeders.
White-throated sparrows produce song laterally through the left side of their syrinx, and control of their syrinx involves both their central and peripheral nervous systems. After damage to motor control of the left side of the syrinx, individuals were still able to produce sound but their song pattern was distorted, indicating the left side chiefly controls their production of song. There are at least two distinct songs sung by this species. One consists of an initial note, followed by three or so repeated notes at an interval of about a major third above. The second song consists of an initial note, a second a whole step lower, and a third note, repeated two or three times, about a minor third below that. This second song is commonly described by use of mnemonics with the cadence of "Po-or Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody" (or "O-oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada") The rhythm is very regular, and the timbre could be described as pinched. These musical intervals are only approximate; to a human ear the song often sounds out of tune. The repeated note will often change in pitch very slightly, contributing to this effect.
As reported by National Geographic in 2020, ornithologists have discovered a new song for the white-throated sparrow. This bird song begins in the same way as the typical song, but with a subtle difference: the repeating triplets, as in "Peabody", become doublets, as in "Cherry", ending with a final single tone. This new tune began to appear in British Columbia, Canada, and then spread east.
The white-throated sparrow also has at least two calls, in addition to its song.