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Feb. 19, 2014
Bisbee, Arizona

The White-crowned Sparrows migrate to my yard in the fall. They scratch the ground for seeds, peep and fly from shrub to shrub until the summer. With the desire to learn how to identify and understand the birds living in my area, I purchased a birding guidebook for SE Arizona. Welcome to the world of the subspecies. The book described 2 of the five subspecies of the White-crowned Sparrow; "Gamble's" (Gambeli) and the "Mountain" (Orianthi).

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

It's black and white and it's all about the details. Scratch and hop over the orange leaf litter for a closer look at these subspecies and if it strikes your fancy bring an observation or two of your own to the Daily Bucket.

White-crowned Sparrow Scratching

The Daily Bucket is a place to share or ask questions about your observations in the natural world. It is helpful if you can include in your comment a hint about your location so that the readers can put your observation into context. What makes this fun is that you never know what subject will drop into the bucket. Note: a splash of humor is not unusual either.

The Gamble's White-crowned Sparrows form flocks and spend the winter in my area while the Mountain subspecies are usually present only in the fall and spring season.

It's not too difficult to tell the subspecies apart if they hold still for you. Taking photographs and using the binaculars helps me quite a bit. What you are looking for is the color just a hair's feather's breadth above the lore. What is this lore that I speak of? Roughly, it is the area between the eye and beak. Notice how the lowest black line in the crown of the Mountain subspecies's continues across the eye to the beak and connects to the top black line.

White-crowned Sparrow

Then look at the Gamble's subspecies. Observe the lowest black line stops at the eye and doesn't connect to the top line in the crown.

White-crowned Sparrow

I found this interesting map on David Sibley's website. The map shows the migration points from the band recoveries of White-crowned Sparrows in the West. It is noted that only the Gamble's subspecies are represented. The southern Arizona banded birds flew as far north as Canada. If you are interested in the Eastern map, click on David Sibley's page here.


Subspecies of White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys:

  • pugetensis
  • gambelii
  • nuttalli
  • oriantha
  • leucophrys

Everyone must have White-crowned sparrow sightings at sometime during the year. Do you know which subspecies you are looking at?

Without further ado, I give you the comment floor.

National Geographic White-crowned Sparrow
David Sibley Distinguishing Interior West from Western Taiga White-crowned Sparrows
Map Image: Canadian Atlas of Bird Banding. Volume 1: Doves, Cuckoos, and Hummingbirds through Passerines, 1921–1995. Canadian Wildlife Service. pdf here:

Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific Time on the Daily Kos front page.

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 06:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching.

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