Illustration by Diane Pierce
The behavior of this sparrow is much like that of the white-throated. Regularly occurring in medium-size flocks, it mixes sometimes with the white-throated, white-crowned, or other sparrows. Monotypic. Length 7.5" (19 cm).
Identification Large sparrow, larger than other Zonotrichia. Bright pink bill; black crown, face, and bib variable by age and plumage; all show postocular spot. Breeding adult: extensive black from crown to throat; gray face. Winter adult: buffy cheeks; throat all black or with white flecks or partial white band. Immature: resembles winter adult with less black; white throat bordered by dark malar stripe.
Similar Species Only other sparrows with black face are the otherwise dissimilar black-throated and black-chinned. The male house (not a true sparrow) has the same black throat, but is smaller, has bolder wing bars and a chestnut crown, does not have the bright pink bill, and behaves totally unlike an emberizid sparrow.
Voice Call: loud wink. Flocking birds give a husky chatter. Flight note: a drawn-out tseep. Song: series of long, clear wavering whistles, often beginning with 2 notes on 1 pitch followed by 2 notes on another pitch.
Status and Distribution Uncommon to fairly common. Breeding: stunted boreal forest. Winter: open woodlands, brushlands, hedgerows. Migration: spring late March–late May; fall early October–early November. Vagrant: rare to casual east and west of narrow range.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006
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