The Golden-crowned Sparrow has bright breeding plumage with a bright yellow crown flanked with bold, black bars. The yellow extends to the nape of the neck and then changes to whitish; the black covers the top half of the eye. The back is light brown with bold stripes. The rump is unstreaked and brownish-gray, with the color extending through the long tail. The wings are brightly patterned with two white wing-bars. The breast and belly are not streaked. Non-breeding plumage is more subdued than breeding plumage, with most of the black and white on the head gone, and the yellow a softer shade. Young birds keep an immature plumage with little or no yellow through their first winter.