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Fox Sparrow

Passerella iliaca

Order:
Passeriformes
Family:
Emberizidae
Sections
  • Authors: Weckstein, Jason D., Donald E. Kroodsma and Robert C. Faucett
  • Published: Jan 1, 2002
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The Introduction Article is just the first of 11 articles in each species account that provide life history information for the species. The remaining articles provide detailed information regarding distribution, migration, habitat, diet, sounds, behavior, breeding, current population status and conservation. Each species account also includes a multimedia section that displays the latest photos, audio selections and videos from Macaulay Library’s extensive galleries. Written and continually updated by acknowledged experts on each species, Birds of North America accounts include a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Fox Sparrow.

This species winters very locally north and south of the distribution shown. See text for details.

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Fox Sparrow, iliaca group, Gambell, AK, September.

Presumably subspecies P. i. zaboria; photographer Brian L. Sullivan

© Cornell Lab of Ornithology
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Fox Sparrow, presumably of the "Sooty" group, Half Moon Bay, CA, December

Half Moon Bay, CA, 9 Dec 2005.  Note this individual's brownish red back, a good character when distinguishing altivagans from the grayer-backed schistacea.; photographer Brian L. Sullivan

© Cornell Lab of Ornithology

When John James Audubon found a Fox Sparrow for the first time on its breeding grounds in southern Labrador in 1834, he had no idea that he was looking at one of North America's most geographically variable birds. With 18 subspecies divided into 3 or 4 distinct groups, this species shows extensive variation that has been the focus of 3 intensive monographs on external morphology, skeletal characteristics, and genetics ( Swarth 1920b , Linsdale 1928b , Zink 1986 ). Its life-history characteristics also vary greatly across its range.

The Fox Sparrow is a common but shy inhabitant of streamside thickets and chaparral across the northern boreal and western montane regions of North America. Habitat preference varies geographically, with each of the major groups preferring nesting locations with different plant communities. Fox Sparrow populations also vary in migratory distance and route; individuals nesting in the Sierra Nevada of California migrate only short distances, mostly altitudinally, while those from Alaska migrate long distances, with some traveling over open ocean. Populations also vary in their song types; while northern and eastern Fox Sparrow populations sing 1 or 2 song types each, western populations sing 3 or 4; commonly heard calls (contact notes) also vary geographically, differences largely correlating with the major groups. This sparrow's large geographic distribution, relative abundance, and extreme geographic variation in plumage, morphology, habitat preference, migratory behavior, and vocalizations make it ideal for comparative evolutionary studies. While several modern studies have focused on Fox Sparrow systematics, song, and migration, many aspects of the life history of this species remain unknown. Its shy habits and preference for dense vegetation have made the collection of life-history data difficult.

Recommended Citation

Weckstein, Jason D., Donald E. Kroodsma and Robert C. Faucett. (2002). Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca), The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/foxspa

DOI: 10.2173/bna.715