These birds forage on the ground or in low vegetation, but sometimes make short flights to catch flying insects. They mainly eat seeds, other plant parts and insects. In winter, they often forage in flocks.
White-crowned sparrows nest either low in bushes or on the ground under shrubs and lay three to five brown-marked gray or greenish-blue eggs.
The white-crowned sparrow is known for its natural alertness mechanism, which allows it to stay awake for up to two weeks during migration.
White-throated sparrows produce song laterally through the left side of their syrinx, and control of their syrinx involves both their central and peripheral nervous systems. After damage to motor control of the left side of the syrinx, individuals were still able to produce sound but their song pattern was distorted, indicating the left side chiefly controls their production of song. There are at least two distinct songs sung by this species. One consists of an initial note, followed by three or so repeated notes at an interval of about a major third above. The second song consists of an initial note, a second a whole step lower, and a third note, repeated two or three times, about a minor third below that.