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Fox Sparrow


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.


Male Fox Sparrows sing a sequence of about a dozen rich, whistled notes lasting 2–3 seconds in all, usually from a concealed perch a few feet from the top of a spruce or fir tree. During summer they sing vigorously at any time from before dawn until long after dark, in fair weather or foul. Northern and eastern populations of Fox Sparrows sing one or two song types each, while western populations sing three or four. Western songs tend to be less rich and more burry than eastern songs. The female occasionally sings a softer, briefer version of the male’s song.


When fighting over territory or when a human approaches the nest, Fox Sparrows give smack calls (which vary from population to population). Their other calls include chu-chu calls and sip calls.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

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.

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.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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