Zonotrichia albicollis

Status:  Common regular spring and fall migrant east and east-central, uncommon west-central, rare west. Rare regular winter visitor southeast and east-central Platte River Valley.

Documentation:  Specimen: HMM 2015, 2 Jun 1915 Inland, Clay Co.

Taxonomy:  No subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997).

This species occurs as a tan-striped morph and the more familiar white-striped morph, as well as occasional intermediates; of interest is that the morphs exhibit negative assortative mating (individuals avoid mating with the same morph), a rare phenomenon which retains both morphs in the gene pool (Falls and Kopachena 2020; Woods 1999; Byers et al 1995; Rising 1996).  The morphs are not population-specific and occur throughout the species’ range (Byers et al 1995). First-winter birds all have tan crown stripes, but some retain these into adulthood (Bent 1968). A tan morph wintered in a Buffalo Co yard 1995-96 (Silcock 1996) and another was in the same yard 11 Oct 1998. All of the 13 reported in the Panhandle 20 Sep-16 Oct 1999 were tan morph birds, and one was banded at Chadron SP, Dawes Co 22 Sep 2014.

Spring:  Apr 14, 16, 17 <<<>>> May 31, Jun 2, 2 (specimen, cited above)

Migration, as determined from dates above away from the wintering area, is from mid-Apr through late May, peaking in early May. There are earlier dates 4 Apr 2020 Lincoln Co, 7 Apr 2010 Madison Co, 7-17 Apr 2020 Ikes Lake, Wayne Co, 10 Apr 2017 Dawson Co, and 12 Apr 1995 northeast Cherry Co, and later dates 9 Jun 2015 Dodge Co, 10 Jun 1983 Adams Co, 10 Jun 1991 Douglas-Sarpy Cos, 15 Jun 1975 Clay Co, and 22 Jun 1974 Adams Co. Reports Feb-early Mar are probably of wintering birds (see Winter).

White-throated Sparrow is uncommon as a migrant away from the east and rare in the Panhandle, especially in spring (Rosche 1982).

  • High counts:  250+ at N. P. Dodge Park, Omaha, 30 Apr 2003, 197 in Sarpy Co 11 May 1996, 65 in Sarpy Co 5 May 2005, and 60 at Holmes Lake, Lancaster Co 27 Apr 2019.

Fall: Sep 12, 12, 13 <<<>>> winter

Migrants arrive mid- to late Sep, with earlier reports 2 Aug 1981 Lincoln Co, 3 Aug 1994 Otoe Co, and 8 Sep 1967 Adams Co. Rare in the Panhandle, sightings of probably the same bird were at a banding station at Chadron SP, Dawes Co 19 Sep-5 Oct 2015. Departure is gradual, with most birds away from the southeast, where wintering occurs, departing by late Nov; Dec-Mar reports are essentially limited to the southeast (see Winter).

During the CBC period in late Dec and early Jan, most are found in the southeast, where high counts are 42 on the Lincoln CBC 17 Dec 1989 and 34 at the same location 16 Dec 1990. During the CBC period, reports are generally bounded by CBCs at Dixon, Loup, Kearney, and Harlan Cos, however singles were found on the Scottsbluff CBC 15 Dec 2001 and 20 Dec 2003, and three were at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 2 Jan 2006.

In the Panhandle and west-central, where it is rare in fall, late dates include 4-6 on 13 Oct 2003 at Lake Ogallala, 10 Nov 1973 Sioux Co, 13 Nov 1994 Dawes Co, 21-23 Nov 1978 Garden Co, 15 Dec 2001 Scottsbluff, 16 Dec 2002 Lake Ogallala, and 2 Jan 2000 Lake Ogallala.

  • High counts:  100 at Lake North, Platte Co 18 Oct 2006, 55 in southeast Washington Co 25 Oct 2014, and 50 in Dakota Co 11 Oct 2018.

Winter: White-throated Sparrow overwinters regularly, but only in small numbers, in the Missouri River Valley from Washington Co southward, and west along the Platte River Valley to Buffalo Co and points south and east; most wintering birds are found at feeders. The only record of overwintering of an individual away from the southeast is an “unprecedented” record of two wintering through 16 Apr 1994 at a Chadron, Dawes Co feeder (Grzybowski 1994).

Many remain through Dec into the first part of Jan away from the expected winter range, but Feb-early Mar reports in those locations are rare: one photographed 4 Feb 2015 Lincoln Co, 6 Feb 1986 Scotts Bluff Co, 10 Feb 2017 Sherman Co, 10 Feb 2018 Sherman Co, 29 Feb 1968 Adams Co, 3 Mar 2010 Dakota Co, 20 Mar 2003 Stanton Co, 21 Mar 2002 Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co, 24 Mar 2019 Rock Co, and 30 Mar 2014 Ponca SP, Dixon Co.

  • High counts:  61 at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 22 Jan 2017.


CBC: Christmas Bird Count
HMM: Hastings Municipal Museum
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
SP: State Park


Photograph (top) of a White-throated Sparrow at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 9 May 2013 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Bent, A.C. 1968. Life histories of North American Cardinals, Grosbeaks, Buntings, Towhees, Finches, Sparrows, and allies. Bulletin of the United States National Museum 237. Three Parts.  Dover Publications Reprint 1968, New York, New York, USA.

Byers, C., J. Curson, and U. Olsson. 1995. Sparrows and Buntings. A guide to the sparrows and buntings of North America and the World. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Falls, J.B. and J.G. Kopachena. 2020. White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.whtspa.01.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1994. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 48: 222-223.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rising, J.D. 1996. A guide to the identification and natural history of the sparrows of the United States and Canada. Academic Press, New York, New York, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Silcock, W.R. 1996. Winter Field report, December-February 1995-1996. NBR 64: 5-17.

Woods, P.E. 1999. A familiar mystery: polymorphism and the White-throated Sparrow. Birding 31:263-266.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2020.  White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 28 Jun 2020