Zonotrichia Atricapilla – Golden-Crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia atricapilla - Golden-crowned sparrow in the United States

Latin name Zonotrichia atricapilla, the golden-crowned sparrow is a large sparrow native to the New World that is found in western North America. Although the adults of this Pacific species are distinctive, the immatures are among the most unassuming Zonotrichia. The white-throated prefers a denser brush than the white-crowned, and its behavior is similar to that of the white-crowned sparrow. They belong to the Passerellidae family.

Quick Overview: Zonotrichia Atricapilla – Golden-Crowned Sparrow
Body size: Around 7 in (18 cm) and a weight of 31 g (1.1 oz)
Main colors: Gold, Black, Brown, White
Range: Coastal area in the United States
Migratory Bird: Yes
Best time of the year to see in the U.S.: January, February, December
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Golden-crowned sparrow Description

The golden-crowned sparrow’s distinctive gold patch with two adjacent black stripes extends from its beak to the back of its head. Adults have these patches in the summer. Winter dulls the patches and two adjacent black stripes. Golden-crowned sparrows have a brownish body with white underbellies. Males and females look alike.

Zonotrichia atricapilla - Golden-crowned sparrow in the United States
Zonotrichia Atricapilla – Golden-Crowned Sparrow. Photo by: Amit Patel


These birds have a length of 7 in (18 cm) and a weight of 31 g (1.1 oz). Their wings could range 9.75 in (25 cm).


Golden-crowned sparrows are omnivores that eat fruits, seeds, insects, and plants. Predators are repelled by foraging in dense shrubbery and flocks. Winter and spring feeding habits are very different, with winter diets consisting almost entirely of vegetation. These sparrows usually forage alone or with their mates in the summer. Summer diets include a lot of flowers. Golden-crowned sparrows prefer weeds to seeds.


Most of what we know about golden-crowned sparrows comes from winter research along the Canadian-California border. Golden-crowned sparrows prefer shrubby, chaparral habitats on the west coast. They live in shrubby tundras with willow thickets in the north.


Golden-crowned sparrows usually breed in pairs in the summer. It is a close relative of the white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). To avoid predators, golden-crowned sparrows feed on the ground. To get food during the winter, they raise their feathers and run towards each other. When food is plentiful, golden-crowned sparrows are less aggressive. Golden-crowned sparrows are fiercely territorial. A person can defend up to 2.5 acres. Female golden-crowned sparrows can mate with multiple partners.

Zonotrichia atricapilla Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Chelicerata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Passerellidae
  • Genus: Zonotrichia
  • Species: Zonotrichia atricapilla

Best time of the year to see

The best time to see these birds in the United States is during the winter season (December to February).

Distribution of the Golden-crowned sparrow in the USA

Golden-crowned sparrows inhabit Pacific coast shrublands. They are found all along the Pacific coast of North America, from Alaska and British Columbia to California and Baja Mexico. Male and female golden-crowned sparrows migrate from British Columbia to Baja California in the winter. Golden-crowned sparrows are found mostly along the Pacific coast. The Golden-crowned sparrow can be found in Oregon and Washington United States.

Zonotrichia Atricapilla – Golden-Crowned Sparrow

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