Golden-crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla


Golden-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrows winter in the SF Bay Area, and indeed in my back yard, where the pictures above and just below were taken. These two birds have molted into their breeding plumage, shortly before their spring departure for their breeding grounds. The lateral crown stripes become thicker and solid black, and the central crown stripe changes from dull yellow to bright yellow in front and white at the rear; compare the two pictures showing non-breeding plumage further down the page. In the last weeks before they leave, the males begin singing their mournfully lovely descending three note song, usually rendered "Oh dear me," but which the miners of the California Gold Rush heard as "No gold here."


Golden-crowned Sparrow


Golden-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowns nest in British Columbia, the Yukon, and the southern two-thirds of Alaska. The picture above
was taken near the upper limit of that range, the tundra around Nome, where the bird, with its feathers puffed out
to keep him warm in a cold rain, was giving a five-note song that in retrospect could be rendered "Oh dear
me-me-me" rather than the familiar three-note "Oh dear me." This solved a mystery for our little group of
photographers; we had heard the five-note song throughout the Nome area without being able to attach it to
any of the birds known to breed there. This song variant was not reported in any standard field guides or
online sources we could find, including the article on this species in Birds of North America Online.


Golden-crowned Sparrow
Above and below are pictures of adult Golden-crowns in winter plumage, as we normally see them where I live.


Golden-crowned Sparrow


Golden-crowned Sparrow
This picture shows the first-winter plumage of the Golden-crown; lateral crown stripes are absent, and the central crown is striped in dark
and light brown, with a dull yellow smudge across the front of the crown.