Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
White-crowned Sparrow - Zonotrichia leucophrys
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General Comments The White-crowned Sparrow, though nesting from Alaska east to Labrador, and south through much of the mountainous West, is primarily a "Western" species, not overly common in the eastern half of the continent. It winters over most of the southern half of the United States, including the majority of North Carolina. In our state, unlike all other sparrows, it is more numerous in the mountains and foothills than farther east, though there are a few sites in the northern Coastal Plain where it is locally numerous. Along the immediate coast, it is known mainly as a fall transient. In winter, it is found with other sparrows in weedy areas, often near farmyards, brushpiles, hedgerows, and other brushy places -- almost always far from forested cover.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S4N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident, and transient (mainly in fall). In winter, uncommon to fairly common but very local local in the southern Tidewater region; uncommon and quite local elsewhere in the northern third of the province; rare to uncommon farther southward (and quite rare near the South Carolina border). In fall migration, uncommon to fairly common on the Outer Banks, and uncommon elsewhere along the coast, but most depart the coast by early winter. Mainly early Oct to early May, but a number of mid-May records. Single birds (adults) at Emerald Isle (at a feeder) on 29 Jun 2004, and at Rocky Mount on 26 Jul 1975, are quite remarkable. Peak counts: 98, Tillery (Halifax), 9 Jan 1975; 94, Pettigrew SP CBC, 30 Dec 2005; 90, Edgecombe, 15 Feb 2010. An individual of the "Gambel's" race was reported at a feeder in Pamlico on the unusual date of 14 Jul 2007; this appears to be just the second state report of this Western subspecies. Another "Gambel's" was seen at Southern Shores (Dare) on 3 Oct 2015.
Piedmont Winter resident, with little migratory movements. Uncommon to fairly common, though local, in the western half of the region; rare to uncommon, and local, in the eastern half; least numerous in the southeastern part of the province, where probably absent in many areas. Mainly early or mid-Oct to early May. Unusual was an adult at Lake Wheeler (Wake) on 19 Jun 1969. An adult "Gambel's" was mist-netted in Randolph on 17 Oct 2015. Peak counts:
Mountains Winter resident, with little migratory movements. Uncommon to fairly common in lower elevations (below 3,000 feet), especially in broad valleys; uncommon and local in middle elevations, to perhaps 4,000 feet, and rare at higher elevations. Mainly early or mid-Oct to early May. Peak counts: 300, Piney Creek (Alleghany), from 8-15 Mar 1998; 150, Henderson, 29 Dec 2013. An immature female of the "Gambel's" race was collected in the Mills River Valley on 31 Oct 1932, for the first state record for this subspecies.
Finding Tips It is not hard to find at a few localized places in the state in winter, such as along Leggett Road in Edgecombe, and in some montane valleys such as the Mills River area in Henderson.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-31], LeGrand[2017-12-08], LeGrand[2016-06-04]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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