Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca


Chubby, large sparrow with variations of coloring from dusky brown to fox red or slate often so dark that no back pattern can be discernable. There are considered to be four subspecies due to color variants. All subspecies have heavy streaking of underparts converging at midbreast into a larger brown spot.


General: The Fox Sparrow is a large, chunky sparrow and the only member of the genus Passerella, although some scientists split the genus into four species or forms. The Sooty form is the one found in south-western BC breeding along the Pacific Coast and wintering from Alaska to California.

Fox Sparrows spend much of the time in the shade of shrubs and bushes using a "double-scratching," backward scratching motion to uncover insects and seeds in fallen litter. It is widespread throughout coastal western North America breeding as far north as the Aleutians.

Larger sparrow, rounded head outline, heavy bill with lighter-colored lower mandible, distinguished by slightly notched tail. Color variations in subspecies, all populations interbreed where range overlaps.

Length: 6 - 7 ¼" (15 – 18 cm)
Wingspan: 10.5"
Weight: 1.1 oz (32 gm)

Red (taiga) Uncommon in BC. Relatively short tailed and long winged, more brightly marked than other subspecies with bright reddish-brown plumage, whitish wing-bars, gray face and rufous streaked white underparts
Sooty (pacific) Common on coastal range from Alaska to California. Slightly longer tailed and shorter winged than Red, uniformly brownish plumage with dense spotted breast. Northern populations are paler than more southern populations.
Slate-Colored (interior West) Common in interior BC down to mid-western US. Relatively long tailed with yellow bill. Plumage drag gray above with dull reddish wings and tail, heavily spotted on underparts.
Canadian Rock Mountain subspecies is intermediate between slate colored and red subspecies.

Adult Male: Adult coloring similar for both male and female.

Adult female: Similar to male.

Juvenile: Juvenile similar to adult.

Similar Species: Hermit thrush has dark, thinner , longer bill, spotted below , tail not notched.

Behavior: Its vigorous "double-scratching," kicking backward in ground litter with both feet to uncover food, often draws attention to its presence under a bird feeder. Sings from elevated perch, gregarious except when breeding. Nests near ground.

Habitat: Thickets and forest edges mixed or second growth forests.


Often mixes with other sparrows when not in breeding season. Spends much time in the shade of shrubs and brushes scratching in fallen litter for insects and seeds.

Conservation Status:

Populations appear stable.
Capture Rates



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