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A migratory sparrow has personality in winter that is independent of other traits

Cite this dataset

Block, Theadora et al. (2021). A migratory sparrow has personality in winter that is independent of other traits [Dataset]. Dryad.


Small birds in winter face trade-offs between predation risk and foraging, and alternate life-history strategies may arise from these trade-offs. Animal personality shows similarities with alternative life-history strategies, and using a life-history context to understand personality can provide valuable insights. Golden-crowned sparrows, Zonotrichia atricapilla, a small migratory bird, have a complex winter social system with high site-fidelity, long-term social associations between individuals and competition mediated by badges of status. We asked whether golden-crowned sparrows show personalities during winter, whether these personalities were consistent over 3 years and whether they correlated with social and morphological traits. We found that golden-crowned sparrows had highly repeatable behaviours, as measured in captive behavioural assessments, constituting personalities consistent within one season and over time for up to 3 years, a time span that covers the average life span of the sparrows. While long-term repeatability was present, it varied considerably among different behaviours and time spans, and length of time between measures did not predict the magnitude of repeatability. Two movement-based aspects of sparrow personality were independent of the traits we measured (dominance, badges of status, size and age). However, nonsong vocalizations (a repeatable aspect of personality) correlated with wing length and gold badge size in some years. Because personality did not strongly link to the social traits we measured, sparrow personality could represent a separate axis of variation that might connect with other winter life-history parameters such as foraging, predation response or survival.


We studied wintering golden-crowned sparrows at the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum. These migratory sparrows breed in Alaska and western Canada and are on the wintering grounds from late September through the end of April. We gathered all field data and ran aviary trials during three winter seasons. Season 1 spanned September 2014–May 2015, Season 2 spanned September 2015–May 2016, and Season 3 spanned September 2016–May 2017. We will refer to each field season by the year in which it began: 2014, 2015, and 2016.

For detailed data collection methods see paper published in Animal Behavior: link to DOI here upon final publishing. 

Usage notes

Please use R code provided to see all analyses and how and NA's are dealt with in the data.

All personality data were extracted from videos, these videos are archived in a private video repository and available upon request.


National Science Foundation

National Science Foundation, Award: NSF IOS-1750606

National Geographic Society, Award: WW-R012-17

Laboratoire d'Excellence (LABEX) entitled TULIP, Award: ANR-10-LABX-41

ANR Grant (Investissements d’Avenir program), Award: ANR-17-EURE-0010