Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow


Profile Fox Sparrow     Literature page Fox

[order] Passeriformes | [family] Emberizidae | [latin] Passerella iliaca | [UK] Fox Sparrow | [FR] Bruant fauve | [DE] Fuchsammer | [ES] Sabanero Rascador | [IT] Passerella variabile | [NL] Roodstaartgors

Roodstaartgors determination

copyright: Robert Schaefer

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.

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.

Migrant, varying greatly in status. Boreal populations fully migratory; north-west populations show ,leapfrog migration’ down west coast, northernmost wintering furthest south; western mountain populations vary from fully migratory to nearly sedentary with minor altitudinal movements. Winters from southern Alaska and south-west British Columbia south through Pacific states to Baja California (Mexico), and from New Mexico, Kansas, and southern Wisconsin across eastern and southern USA, north very locally to Canada. Records and ringing recoveries show marked passage along Atlantic coast, presumably chiefly to Newfoundland, where many breed. Vagrant to Alaskan and Canadian Arctic, and to Greenland.

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 a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 7,500,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 16,000,000 individuals (Rich et al. 2003). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from]

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.

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.


  1. Measurements
  2. spanwidth min.: 26 cm
  3. spanwidth max.: 28 cm
  4. size min.: 17 cm
  5. size max.: 19 cm
  6. Breeding
  7. incubation min.: 12 days
  8. incubation max.: 14 days
  9. fledging min.: 9 days
  10. fledging max.: 11 days
  11. broods 1
  12. eggs min.: 3
  13. eggs max.: 4
  14. Conservation Status
  15. Roodstaartgors status Least Concern


  1. Passerella iliaca schistacea
  2. Passerella iliaca unalaschcensis
  3. Passerella iliaca insularis
  4. Passerella iliaca sinuosa
  5. Passerella iliaca annectens
  6. Passerella iliaca townsendi
  7. Passerella iliaca chilcatensis
  8. Passerella iliaca
  9. NA w, n
  10. Passerella iliaca olivacea
  11. Melospiza iliaca
  12. Passerella iliaca swarthi
  13. Passerella iliaca canescens
  14. Passerella iliaca megarhyncha
  15. Passerella iliaca altivagans
  16. Passerella iliaca zaboria
  17. Passerella iliaca iliaca
  18. Passerella iliaca fuliginosa
Join the discussion