A project of

White-throated Sparrow

Old Sam Peabody...moving to higher ground

With a clear-whistled song familiar to anyone who has spent time in the north woods during summer, the White-throated Sparrow is also a common winter visitor at bird feeders. Recent analyses of Mountain Birdwatch data in the northeastern U.S., suggest that the breeding range of this species has moved upslope by >30 meters from 2011 to 2019.

The State of White-throated Sparrows

Northeastern United States: Declining

White-throated Sparrow numbers have likely been declining throughout our region for at least the last half-century. Mountain Birdwatch data indicate a steep overall population decline (-5.5% per year, 95% credible interval = -6.8% to -4.1%) in the mountains of our region; this trend equates to a 39.0% decline (95% credible interval = 35.3% to 42.5%) between 2011 and 2019. These declines are likely prevalent throughout the region, but the steepest declines were observed in the Adirondacks of New York (see table below).

The dark orange line is the annual estimate of White-throated Sparrow abundance immediately surrounding Mountain Birdwatch survey locations. Vertical bars represent 95% Bayesian credible intervals (a measure of the uncertainty around the abundance estimates).

Mean annual population trends (below) for White-throated Sparrow from 2011 through 2019. A red dot indicates strong evidence for a negative trend. A trend of -2%, for example, indicates that the number of White-throated Sparrows in our study area has declined by an average of 2% each year from 2011 through 2019.
RegionMean annual trend (%)95% credible interval
All regions combined -5.50(-6.80, -4.09)
New York (state) -7.64(-8.61, -6.62)
New York (Catskills) -6.89(-8.86, -4.63)
New York (Adirondacks) -7.71(-8.72, -6.63)
Vermont -5.50(-6.80, -4.09)
New Hampshire -4.70(-6.16, -3.11)
Maine -6.06(-7.16, -4.94)

Globally: Decreasing

With a global population of ~140 million, the White-throated Sparrow remains an abundant species. However, USGS Breeding Bird Survey data estimate that this species’ population size has declined by >60% over the last half century. The USGS Breeding Bird Survey data indicate a broad, long-term decline for White-throated Sparrows in the Eastern U.S. and Canada (where this species is most numerous), and a stable or increasing population trend for this species in the Western U.S. and Canada.

White-throated Sparrow numbers have declined across Canada and the United States according to the Breeding Bird Survey. Points indicate annual estimate of relative abundance; higher numbers mean more White-throated Sparrows were counted in that year. Solid black lines above and below indicate the uncertainty around estimates of relative abundance. Figure provided by the United States Geological Survey.

Opportunities for Conservation

In the northeastern U.S., breeding White-throated Sparrows are most abundant above 1200 meters (left panel), and at northern latitudes (right panel). The dark lines represent the mean relationship between abundance and elevation or (left panel) or abundance and latitude (right panel); the lighter colored-areas represent the uncertainty of the mean response (i.e., the 95% Bayesian credible intervals).

The causes of the long-term decline in White-throated Sparrow numbers is unclear. It may reflect decreases in the amount of early-successional habitat available as a result of changing land use and changing forest-management practices. Mortality stemming from collisions during migration is not thought to be a driver of population declines for most bird species. However, White-throated Sparrows are highly vulnerable to collisions with buildings and towers during migration, and they are one of the most frequently killed species (in terms of shear numbers) in many cities in the Eastern U.S. and Canada. As such, creating bird-safe buildings by turning out unnecessary lights during migration and using bird-friendly window coverings may help reduce mortality from collisions. As a frequent winter visitor to backyard bird feeders, White-throated Sparrows are also vulnerable to predation by outdoor pet and feral cats, and therefore keeping domestic cats indoors may help reduce winter mortality.

State of Mountain Birds