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White-crowned Sparrow - Zonotrichia leucophrys

White-crowned Sparrow is easy to age reliably in fall simply by the head pattern; in spring this is rarely helpful, but wing and tail can be used to age most individuals. Sex can usually be determined only by brood patch / cloacal protuberance during the breeding season, although particularly small or large wing chords (varying by subspecies) may be indicative of sex for a minority of birds.

The five recognized subspecies differ somewhat in appearance and extent of molt, but the overall patterns are sufficiently consistent for ageing/sexing guidelines to apply to all of them

Quick Tips:

  • Look at the crown - in fall only AHY birds have white and black stripes, while HY birds have tan and brown stripes; note that in spring this feature is generally not helpful (SY birds may occasionally retain a few brown feathers, but even ASY individuals can have brown feathers on the hindcrown)
  • Uniformly narrow and pointed rectrices OR contrastingly fresh and broad central rectrices are indicative of HY/SY, while uniformly broad and more rounded rectrices are typical of AHY/ASY, but beware that rectrix shape can be quite variable, so use this criteria with caution and place an emphasis on feather condition
  • Check the wing for molt limits - HY/SY birds show a contrast between darker/fresher greater coverts and the paler block of primary coverts, primaries, and secondaries; this tends to be more readily visible in spring

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory

Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.
Age / Sex  Image sets 
Juvenile / Unknown
Some streaking on the breast; wing uniformly pale brown (or with greater coverts being replaced); rectrices relatively narrow and tapered.
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Hatch year / Unknown
Brown and tan crown stripes; slight contrast between the greater coverts and the rest of the wing; rectrices relatively narrow and tapered.
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After hatch year / Unknown
Black and white crown stripes; wing uniform in colour and wear; rectrices relatively broad and rounded.
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Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1520-Zonotrichia_leucophrys_AOU_7_52-4026.jpg Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1520-Zonotrichia_leucophrys_AOU_7_52-4028.jpg Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1520-Zonotrichia_leucophrys_AOU_7_52-4029.jpg Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1520-Zonotrichia_leucophrys_AOU_7_52-4027.jpg
Second year / Unknown
Molt limit on the wing between the greater coverts and paler brown primary coverts, primaries, and secondaries; at least some retained juvenile rectrices showing wear
Thumbnail - MH3-NA_412-Zonotrichia_leucophrys_AOU_7_52-894.jpg

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Thumbnail - IS2-2771-03523-Zonotrichia_leucophrys_AOU_7_52-4584.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2771-03523-Zonotrichia_leucophrys_AOU_7_52-4583.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2771-03523-Zonotrichia_leucophrys_AOU_7_52-4582.jpg
After second year / Unknown
Wing largely uniform in colour and wear; rectrices relatively broad and rounded.
Thumbnail - MH3-NA_411-Zonotrichia_leucophrys_AOU_7_52-893.jpg

Additional age / sex class descriptions

The following additional age / sex class descriptions were found for this species:
Age / Sex   Age / Sex class description
Number of species: 80

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