White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

What Are Cold-Weather Residents?

Autumn migration in North America consists of 2 types of birds heading south.  The first type is made up of of birds passing through on their way to warmer places in the southern United States or Central or South America.  These birds are often insect eaters, and their food cannot be found this far north in the coming frigid months.  For example, most warblers fit into this category.  The second type of bird summered further north in Canada, and compared to our colder northern neighbor, a state such as Ohio seems like a decent place to spend the winter- I know that may be hard to believe!  These birds tend to be seed-eaters.  There are several species that can be observed making Ohio their home in the cold season, and I thought I’d discuss some of these birds in a series of posts.

There are two handsome sparrows that winter in Ohio that are quite photogenic, both having black and white striped heads.  I’ve spotted them both since October, and they stand out quite easily in their distinctive plumage- when they’re not hiding.

Both of these sparrows frequent thickets, brushpiles or overgrown meadows, foraging close to or on the ground.  You can hear a group of them scrabbling through the leaf litter close by, even if you cannot see them.  They hop on the ground, making scratching motions to uncover food.  They often make small sounds to stay in touch with each other while moving through thickets.  Typically seen in groups, they can sometimes be found at feeders, but they are often out in the country along wood edges or in fencelines.  Once many years ago I sat in a field, a flock of these birds all around me feeding off of the seeds of dead wildflowers that filled the field, nothing breaking the silence but the sound of their bills clicking together as they ate.

These birds will live in the USA until spring migration, when they will move north for the breeding season.

White-Crowned Sparrows have a pink bill and a plain gray throat.

White-Throated Sparrows have a white throat and yellow lores– that’s the area between the eye and the beak.

As a bonus, White-Throated Sparrows have a very distinctive song, a clear high thin whistle that sounds like:

‘pure sweet Canada Canada Canada’


‘poor Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody’

You can hear this song even as they migrate south.  As a matter of fact, it’s easier to hear them than to see them in many cases.  They’re very fond of cover.

A typical area that a White-Throat frequents

This White-Throat is eating honeysuckle berries

These modest sparrows keep us company in the winter, brightening up the landscape that has lost so many species to warmer climates.  Since there are many seeds out there to eat, nature assures that no ecological niche goes unfilled.  Enjoy them when you see them.