Fox Sparrow

Hey guys, welcome back! Today we’ve got another sparrow! The Fox Sparrow is pretty cool, and despite that picture up there, surprisingly easy to ID. At first glance, it might seem like the key to ID is the field marks. While those certainly do play a role, this sparrow is best identified by it’s size. Of all of the “streaked” sparrows, the Fox Sparrow is the largest. And they aren’t barely larger than, say, a Song Sparrow. They’re large enough to see one without any other birds around and think “damn, that sparrow is huge!” In terms of those field marks, the Fox sparrow is a very splotchy streaked sparrow. I like to think of their streaks  like someone had a dull crayon and tried to make neat stripes.

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Fox Sparrow with a mouth full of sunflower seeds, Central Park, NY

They get their name from their bright reddish-brown coloration, similar to that of the red fox. Although, their plumage can be quite variable. There are four color variations, each found in their own geographic region. There’s the “eastern” which is the most reddish-brown version, and covers probably the largest geographic area, the “sooty” (whose color is much more of a grey-brown) found along the Pacific Coast, the “thick-billed” found primarily in the Sierra-Nevada and Cascade Mountain ranges, and is the dullest colored of all the forms. Finally, there’s the “slate-colored” whose coloration is quite striking; slate grey head fading to a bright rufous tail. They also live out west, in the interior of the western U.S. All forms have roughly the same streaking patterns.

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Fox Sparrow deep in leaf litter, Central Park, NY

Though found here in Missouri, I’ve yet to see one. Even in New York where they were common in the winter, they weren’t very plentiful. I’d see typically maybe 10 in Central Park during a winter. I remember trying to point out to my colleagues a Fox Sparrow, and trying to relay the difference between it and the Song Sparrow. It was tough because there wasn’t too many Fox Sparrows, so they couldn’t get a lot of “practice” seeing them. Finally, one of my colleagues, Chris, saw one and very exuberantly said “Wow they really are bigger!” I always like these guys, probably because I don’t see them very often. They’re a cool “second look” bird. By that I mean a bird that looks like another bird, but off just enough to cause you to give it a second look. That’s when you notice, “hey, that’s not what I thought it was!” Check back next time when we head back to the world of ducks! See you then!

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