Fox Sparrow

Passerella iliaca
Fox Sparrow specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A large (6 ¾ -7 ½ inches) bunting, the Fox Sparrow is most easily identified by its reddish-brown back, streaked breast, and gray face. Other field marks include a large conical bill, long tail, and white throat patch. Male and female Fox Sparrows are similar in all seasons. The Fox Sparrow breeds across Alaska and central Canada. In the west, this species’ range extends south at higher elevations into the United States as far south as southern California. In winter, this species migrates south to the Pacific coast from Washington south to Baja California, the eastern U.S., and parts of the desert southwest. Fox Sparrows breed in a variety of thick shrubby woodland habitats, particularly those with low willow, fir, and spruce bushes. During the winter, this species may be found in thickets in shrub lands and along woodland edges. Fox Sparrows primarily eat insects in summer, adding seeds and grains to their diets during the winter. In appropriate habitat, Fox Sparrows may be observed foraging for food on the ground below shrubs and small trees. Birdwatchers may also listen for this species’ song, a series of whistles and trills that is softer and more fluid than that of the Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia). Fox Sparrows are most active during the day, but, like many migratory songbirds, this species migrates at night.

DC Information

Common migrant, early February to mid-April and mid-October to mid-November; sometimes winters in small numbers in fields and hedgerows. Sexes are similar.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC16927 Passerella iliaca (Fox Sparrow)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC67158 Passerella iliaca (Fox Sparrow)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC70105 Passerella iliaca (Fox Sparrow)