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Number of species: 72

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White-throated Sparrow - Zonotrichia albicollis

White-throated Sparrows can be relatively difficult to age, since age-related differences in wing and tail patterns are often subtle; especially by spring, a fair number of intermediates cannot be reliably aged.  Sex can generally be determined only by brood patch / cloacal protuberance during the breeding season, or by particularly short or long wing chords (<67 mm = female, >74 mm = male).

There are white-striped and tan-striped morphs of this species which look considerably different; while differences in head colouration are to some degree related to age and sex, they mostly overlap too much to be of use. Also beware that juveniles can appear quite similar to Song Sparrows, but usually have a larger wing chord and greater weight.

Quick Tips:

  • Look at the tail - uniformly narrow and pointed rectrices are indicative of HY/SY, while broad and more rounded rectrices are typical of AHY/ASY
  • In fall, examine the iris in good light - it is grayish-brown in HY birds, compared to brown (sometimes with a slight reddish tings) in AHY birds
  • Check the wing for molt limits - HY/SY birds should show a contrast between darker/fresher greater coverts and the paler block of primary coverts, primaries, and secondaries, but this tends to be more apparent in spring and even then can sometimes be too subtle to distinguish from the pseudolimit typical of AHY/ASY birds

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
Streaked breast; limited coloration to coverts; narrow but fresh rectrices.
Thumbnail - MG2-2341-58731-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-2005.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2341-58731-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-2007.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2341-58731-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-2006.jpg
Hatch year / Unknown
Gray-brown iris; sometimes lightly streaked breast; relatively dull primary coverts; rectrices relatively narrow and tapered
Thumbnail - MG2-2431-74820-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-2002.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2431-74820-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-2004.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2431-74820-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-2003.jpg
After hatch year / Unknown
Reddish-brown iris; unstreaked breast; wing largely uniform in colour, with broad, dark outer primary coverts; rectrices relatively broad and rounded;
Thumbnail - MG2-1541-17951-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-1996.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-1541-17951-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-1998.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-1541-17951-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-1997.jpg
Second year / Unknown
Indistinct molt limit between greater coverts vs. primary coverts, primaries, secondaries, and tertials; outer primary coverts dull; rectrices relatively narrow and tapered
Thumbnail - MG2-2241-39654-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-2008.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2241-39654-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-2010.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2241-39654-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-2009.jpg
After second year / Unknown
Wing largely uniform in colour, with broad, dark outer primary coverts; rectrices relatively broad and rounded
Thumbnail - MG2-2241-39630-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-1999.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2241-39630-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-2001.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2241-39630-Zonotrichia_albicollis_AOU_7_52-2000.jpg
Number of species: 72

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