FOX SPARROW(Passerella iliaca)

The Fox sparrow is thus named due to its reddish tones which remind of the Red fox, but the species has variable colors depending on the areas where it is found. The eastern species is reddish brown with a grey face above the eye and neck sides. The breast is light grey with brown streaks, and displays a brown spot in the middle, like the Song sparrow. The reddish brown is more apparent on the rump and the tail, which is long. The bill is dark on top and orange under. The legs are reddish-pink. The length of the Fox sparrow is about 17 cm (7 in.) long.

NAME: The English name ‘Sparrow’ derives from Anglo-Saxon ‘Spearwa’, which means ‘flutterer’, and it has been applied to many small birds (Choate). The Latin genus name ‘Passerella’ means “little sparrow”. As for the Latin species name ‘iliaca’, it refers to ‘flank’ (probably alluding to the streaked flanks of this bird).

While feeding on the ground, this sparrow scratches the ground with both feet in a backward motion, then jumps ahead and begins again.

During the breeding season, the fox sparrow feeds mainly on insects and arthropods, and on seeds and some berries for the rest of the year. The young are fed insects as well.

The fox sparrow breeds on PEI but its presence has been listed as either rare or uncommon or occasional, depending on the seasons. Its main breeding range covers much of the Canadian boreal forest, the whole of BC and up into Alaska. The Maritimes are located at the southernmost part of its summer range, and its habitat in that region includes the coniferous forest at high elevations.

During migration, fox sparrows can be observed in the southern part of Canada and the northern half of the USA east of the Rockies. They spend winter in the southeast part of the USA. During migration and in the winter, they can be seen around backyard bird feeders, which makes them vulnerable to cats.

Conservation: although not on any list of species at risk, there has been a notable decline in the population of the fox sparrow in North America in the last few decades.

Fox sparrow - Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, QC - photo by Cephas
Fox sparrow – Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, QC – photo by Cephas