Living Bird Magazine
Fox SparrowPasserella iliaca
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
Typically seen sending up a spray of leaf litter as they kick around in search of food, Fox Sparrows are dark, splotchy sparrows of dense thickets. Named for the rich red hues that many Fox Sparrows wear, this species is nevertheless one of our most variable birds, with four main groups that can range from foxy red to gray to dark brown. Since they breed primarily in remote areas, many people see them in winter when the birds move into backyard thickets.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Fox Sparrows are common but retiring birds, so you may have to look carefully to spot one scratching in the leaf litter under a streamside thicket or forest edge tangle. Check a range map to know when you’re likely to see one (wintertime over much of the East and the southern Pacific Coast; summertime in Alaska, Canada, and western mountains). During the summer, in the appropriate habitat, you may hear a male singing his rich, whistling song; in winter look for them on the ground under bird feeders.
- Chingolo Zorruno (Spanish)
- Bruant fauve (French)
Fox Sparrows tend to feed on the ground close to dense vegetation. They enjoy small seeds and many kinds of berries. They may scratch for fallen seeds underneath bird feeders, particularly if they are close to cover. Encouraging shrubs or berry bushes to grow at the edges of your yard, or keeping a brush pile, are good ways to provide places for Fox Sparrows to forage. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- The nineteenth century naturalist William Brewster was inspired by the rich song of breeding Fox Sparrows in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. “At all hours of the day,” he wrote, “in every kind of weather late into the brief summer, its voice rises among the evergreen woods filling the air with quivering, delicious melody, which at length dies softly, mingling with the soughing of the wind in the spruces, or drowned by the muffled roar of the surf beating against neighboring cliffs.”
- People have spotted individual Fox Sparrows in Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Germany, and Italy. Some of these vagrant birds probably made part of their transatlantic journey by ship, after touching down to rest on a vessel far from shore.
- Fox Sparrow fossils from the Pleistocene (about 11,000 years ago) have been found in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and at the La Brea tar pits in California.
- The oldest recorded Fox Sparrow was at least 10 years, 4 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in California in 2003, the same state where it had been banded.