Adult white-throated sparrow upperparts are reddish brown with dark streaks, and whitish wing bars. The crown is dark brown or black, with a white central crown stripe, and there are two broad white or tan eyebrows and a narrow black eye line. Often has a noticeable yellow spot in front of the eye. The bill is dark. Underparts are white, with an unstreaked gray breast that outlines a prominent white throat patch. Young birds have some streaking on underparts. This species hops on the ground, instead of walking. The memorable song, heard in late fall and early spring, sometimes in the winter, begins with two clear, slow whistles, followed by repeated three-syllable phrases on a higher pitch: hew, hew, whe-he-he, whe-he-he, whe-he-he, sometimes "translated" as "sweet, sweet, Canada Canada Canada." Another version became a nickname for this species: "Ol' Sam Peabody." The call is a tseet or a sharp, alarmed pink.
Similar species: The closely related white-crowned sparrow has nifty black-and-white head stripes, but it lacks the yellow lores and the throat is gray, not white.
Length: 6¾ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).
Statewide. White-throated sparrows are dispersed throughout Missouri in the winter. They tend to be more common in the southern and eastern parts of the state.
Habitat and Conservation
Commonly seen foraging on the ground in brushy areas in woodlands. Often comes to bird feeders where seeds are on or near the ground. White-throated sparrows are often found in large flocks of birds that typically include other sparrows.
Insects, fruits, and seeds. Seeds are mostly those of grasses and weeds such as ragweed. Fruits include those of sumacs as well as fleshier types such as blackberries, rose hips, and grapes. They come to bird feeders and are especially attracted to sunflower seeds and millet. As with many birds, the summertime diet usually has a larger percentage of insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates, which provide added protein for the growing young. As with the closely related white-throated sparrow, this species often scratches the ground by kicking backward with both feet at once.
Common migrant; accidental summer (nonbreeding) visitor. As winter resident, common in the south part of the state, uncommon in the north.
White-throated sparrows start arriving in Missouri and late September and are present through the winter; they and spring migrants are gone again by the end of May. The breeding territory covers much of Canada. Their cup nests are built on the ground and are constructed of grasses, twigs, and pine needles and lined with hair and other soft materials. Clutches can comprise up to 6 eggs, which are incubated 11–14 days; after hatching, the nestlings start leaving the nests after another 7–12 days; there can be 1 or 2 broods. A white-throated sparrow can live to be at least 14 years old.
New Englanders tell the story of a farmer, named Peverly, who was trying to decide if it was time yet to plant wheat in his fields. As he pondered, he heard a bird singing "Sow wheat, Peverly, Peverly, Peverly!" So he sowed then, and that fall he harvested a record crop. Do you think the "Peverly bird" could indicate the best time to plant wheat?
Juncos are another genus in the sparrow family. Dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows sometimes mate and produce living offspring. These hybrid sparrows resemble their white-throated parent, but they are grayer and duller and have the junco parent's white outer tail feathers.
About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 have been recorded within our borders. Most people know a bird when they see one — it has feathers, wings, and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with songs and calls.