Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Irresistible! Attract White-crowned Sparrows to Your Feeder

The striking black-and-white head of White-crowned Sparrows is shared only with White-throated Sparrows. That makes these birds rather easy to identify as they scratch on the ground under your bird feeder.

White-crowned Sparrows visit backyards in winter throughout much of the contiguous United States. They are also common spring and fall migrants.

How do you attract White-crowned Sparrows to your feeder? Follow these suggestions to attract White-crowned Sparrows to your yard.

Photo of White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

Why attract White-crowned Sparrows to your bird feeder?

White-crowned Sparrows are beautifully patterned. Their crowns are patterned with black and white stripes from the bill to hind-crown.

But they don't all look exactly alike!

Did you know? Males and females look alike. However, for the first year of their life the head stripes of both genders are reddish-brown and tan, rather than black and white. 

Not only that, Eastern birds and those of the Inter-Mountain West have black feathers between bill and eye. Those populations in the far West and Alaska have white feathers between eye and bill.

White-crowned Sparrows sing in late winter and also in spring as they migrate north. Surprise! Various populations have different song dialects! Especially in the West is it possible to hear differences in the songs of migratory birds.

White-crowned Sparrows are fairly hardy winter birds. They winter south of the cold New England and northern Midwest States. But they are found in winter in other parts of the US, snow or not.

White-crowned Sparrows tend to be quite gentle and unaggressive. They give way to the bossy House Sparrows. They will, however, push around smaller sparrows such as Dark-eyed Juncos and Chipping Sparrows.

For these reasons and more, people who feed birds love to see White-crowned Sparrows when they first show up in September and October.

Photo of White-crowned Sparrow
First-year White-crowned Sparrow.

What foods will attract White-crowned Sparrows to your feeder?

You can attract White-crowned Sparrows to your bird feeder by offering small seeds, such as millet and sunflower seeds.

These sparrows eat grains and weed seeds that other feeder birds, such as finches and chickadees, throw out of the feeder. For instance, White-crowned Sparrows will eat wheat and corn, often found in cheap bird seed.

If you want to invite the widest variety of seed eating birds to your feeder, though, a more expensive blend of mixed bird seed will have less waste. The best mixed bird seed that I have found is Wagner's Songbird Supreme (Amazon affiliate link). It is 50% sunflower seeds and doesn't have any cheap filler seed that many birds won't eat. 

Photo of White-crowned Sparrow

What kind of feeders do White-crowned Sparrows like?

Ground feeding sparrows, such as White-crowned Sparrows often feed under your seed feeders. They like to kick and scratch on the ground to search for fallen seed.

They can't help this kicking habit. When they get up on a feeder, they can end up kicking out lots of good seed on the ground!

A low ground platform feeder (Amazon affiliate link) is ideal for these birds and other sparrows such as towhees and juncos, and also cardinals and jays.

White-crowned Sparrows will also eat from hopper feeders that have a wide shelf they can stand on. Here's an example of a hanging hopper bird feeder on Amazon suitable for White-crowned Sparrows (affiliate link).

I created this video to accompany this article. My Youtube channel features birds, bird watching, and bird identification. Check it out. You may enjoy it!

Where to place your bird feeder for White-crowned Sparrows

White-crowned Sparrows would like a low platform feeder. They will also eat from the ground. But they want some nearby safety. 

Place the feeder near a brush pile or hedge. A tangle of blackberries will provide cover.

They also like small twiggy trees rising above such a tangle. These sparrows often perch up high to see the danger. Then they dive into more protective cover.

If safety is close, they may also eat at larger window bird feeders.

Photo of White-crowned Sparrow

How else can you attract White-crowned Sparrows to your yard?

Even without a bird feeder, White-crowned Sparrows may spend the winter in your yard if it provides enough protection.

Plant thick shrubs and bushes to provide cover. Choose native plants like willows and dogwoods. White-crowned Sparrows may eat small berries from landscaping bushes.

If you can provide a large brush pile, these sparrows will use it to hide in.

White-crowned Sparrows will use bird baths or other water features. They are especially attracted to moving or splashing water such as a fountain.

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Photo of White-crowned Sparrow

Problems with White-crowned Sparrows: If you have attracted too many to your feeder

White-crowned Sparrows do occur in flocks, sometimes quite large flocks, often with other species of sparrows.

You may have attracted too many sparrows overall, of several species. If you want to discourage all sparrows, while keeping other species, try these suggestions.

Switch to using a tube feeder without a tray. Fill this bird feeder with black oil sunflower seeds. This feeder and food will attract finches, chickadees, and similar birds. Sparrows will still come, but perhaps make up a smaller percentage of the birds.

You may also purchase a thistle sock or finch feeder and fill it with Niger seed. Only finches will feed from this food: Pine Siskins and goldfinches, primarily.

If you want to reduce the number of birds feeding on the ground under the feeder, do two things. Feed a smaller amount of food so that the feeder goes empty by noon. Birds will clean up any spilled seed on the ground after that, and then be gone. You'll have to experiment to find the exact amount of seed to add.

Clean the ground under the feeder of scattered whole seeds and even husks that sparrows may search through, looking for food.

If you decide to have another feeder that sparrows don't use, buy a tube feeder.

I really love the way my iBorn tube feeder (Amazon affiliate link) looks, with its copper top.  A screwdriver takes off the lower perch and opens it up for cleaning. This feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds attracts all types of finches, chickadees, and nuthatches. The smaller perches and lack of tray mean that you'll have fewer House Sparrows, Starlings, Doves, and Jays at this feeder.

White-crowned Sparrow FAQ

Ask questions in the comments below about attracting and feeding White-crowned Sparrows and I'll add the answer here!


Why aren't birds coming to your feeder?

First in series: Irresistible! Attract Mourning Doves to your feeder

Next in series: Irresistible! Attract Downy Woodpeckers to your feeder

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