Educational Materials for Middle School

White-throated Sparrows
Scientific Name Zonotrichia albicollis
White-throated sparrows are song birds that migrate each year. They commonly range along the west coast and the southeastern states during winter and then migrate to Northeastern United States and Canada for summer. This type (or species) of bird is very interesting because there are two different plumage (feather) colors within this species. There is a white "morph" and a tan "morph". Both of these morphs occur in each sex, males may be white or tan and females may be white or tan. To make life even more interesting you will almost always find a white bird with a tan bird. So you will have a white male with a tan female and a tan male with a white female.

White Morph

Tan Morph

To complicate the situation even more there are behavior differences between the morphs. White males like to show off by singing a lot, they spend more time fighting with their neighbors and they don't like to stay home taking care of their kids (nestlings). Tan males on the other hand are stay at home dads, they don't sing as much and they aren't as aggressive (they don't start as many fights).

Listen to a white-throated sparrow sing

In this species the female is responsible for building the nest and sitting on the eggs to keep them warm (incubation). She will build the nest on or near the ground out of dry grass and sticks and make the inside soft with some shed hair from deer or other animals. The female will lay one egg a day for three-five days and then incubate them for 12-14 days.

White-throated sparrow egg

Female white morph sitting on her nest incubating the eggs.

She will sit on the nest for most of the day, only leaving to look for food (forage). White-throated sparrows are ground foragers meaning they kick and scratch on the ground in the dead leaves looking for seeds and insects. They will also eat some berries and plants when available. When the eggs hatch there will be baby birds (nestlings) that weigh about 2 grams, they are about the size of a quarter and weigh about the same as a pencil. They hardly have any feathers and their eyes are not open. They also do not thermoregulate (they can not maintain their own body temperature and must rely on mom to keep them warm). Nestlings beg for food from their parents by opening their mouth and stretching their necks.

Nestlings at hatching

Begging white-throated sparrow nestlings

White-throated sparrow nestlings that are one week old

Both parents will help feed the babies and after about eight to ten days the babies will have feathers and be able to fledge, hop out of the nest and start exploring. The parents will continue to care for the fledglings for a couple more weeks until they are ready to start another nest. Imagine being able to walk, fly and take care of yourself within a month of being born. Baby birds grow up very fast.

Fledgling white-throated sparrow

Watch the videos of the parents taking care of the nestlings. See if you can count how many times each nestling begs and how many times it is fed. How many times does each parent arrive with food? Do they just feed one baby, two or three? What other kinds of things do the parents and the babies do? How many times do you here dad singing near the nest?

Link to videos

Have fun with a word search about the sparrows!!

Do you think you could build a nest? Imagine trying to weave together straw and twigs without fingers.

What you will need:

See if you can keep up with a bird!

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