Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)

Fox Sparrow

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Emberizidae | [latin] Passerella iliaca | [UK] Fox Sparrow | [FR] Pinson fauve | [DE] Fuchsammer | [ES] Chingolo zorruno | [NL] Roodstaartgors


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Melospiza iliaca
Passerella iliaca NA w, n se USA, n Mexico
Passerella iliaca altivagans
Passerella iliaca annectens
Passerella iliaca canescens
Passerella iliaca chilcatensis
Passerella iliaca fuliginosa
Passerella iliaca iliaca
Passerella iliaca insularis
Passerella iliaca megarhyncha
Passerella iliaca olivacea
Passerella iliaca schistacea
Passerella iliaca sinuosa
Passerella iliaca swarthi
Passerella iliaca townsendi
Passerella iliaca unalaschcensis
Passerella iliaca zaboria

Physical charateristics

The Fox Sparrow is a large, chunky sparrow that is highly variable in appearance, depending on geographical region. It is dark and unstreaked on its back, varying from gray-brown, to dark brown, to rufous. The tail is typically redder than the back. The breast is heavily spotted, and the spots are shaped like chevrons that converge in a central spot on the breast. The head is not striped or streaked, the face is plain, and the lower mandible is yellow. The combination of the chevron markings, red tail, plain face, and yellow mandible are good field marks to use to identify the Fox Sparrow.

Listen to the sound of Fox Sparrow

[audio: Sparrow.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 26 cm wingspan max.: 28 cm
size min.: 17 cm size max.: 19 cm
incubation min.: 12 days incubation max.: 14 days
fledging min.: 9 days fledging max.: 14 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 4  


North America : West, North


Breeding Fox Sparrows can be found at high elevations, especially in wet meadows or in scattered conifers. Wintering Fox Sparrows inhabit recent clearcuts and tangled brush, especially blackberry thickets.


The male sings to defend his nesting territory and attract a mate. The female builds the nest, a bulky cup made of grass, moss, and twigs, lined with hair, fine grass, moss, and feathers. The nest is located on the ground, in a shrub, or in a tree. Ground nests are usually on a grassy hummock, hidden under dense shrub cover. Nests in shrubs or trees are attached to branches and are usually bulkier, with more twigs than their counterparts on the ground. The female incubates 3 to 4 eggs for 12 to 14 days. Both parents help feed the young, which leave the nest at 9 to 11 days. Pairs generally raise two broods per year.

Feeding habits

Seeds, especially from grasses and smartweeds (Polygonum spp.), are typical diet items throughout the year. In the spring and summer, Fox Sparrows eat insects and feed them to their young. Berries, when available, are also a staple. Birds in coastal areas will eat tiny crustaceans and other small marine creatures found on the beach.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Fox Sparrow status Least Concern


The migration status of the Fox Sparrow is confounded by overlaps between the various groups. Generally, Fox Sparrows winter in the southern United States, but some groups may winter as far north as coastal Washington. Many of the Fox Sparrows that breed in Washington winter to the south. Some winter in Washington or travel short distances down the coast. Northern coastal breeders from British Columbia and Alaska move into western Washington for the winter. Migration tends to be early in spring and late in fall.

Distribution map

Fox Sparrow distribution range map

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