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A photo of a Red Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)
Red Fox Sparrow

Red Fox Sparrow

Passerella iliaca

The Red Fox Sparrow, a member of the American sparrow genus Passerella, is a robust bird with a length of 15–19 cm and a wingspan of 27 cm. It weighs an average of 32 grams. This bird is characterized by its gray head adorned with a rufous crown and ear coverts, and a white throat flanked by rufous lateral stripes. The lower bill is a pale yellow, darkening to black towards the tip. Its breast is marked with reddish-brown streaks and a central spot, while the belly remains predominantly white. The back displays a unique combination of rufous and gray streaks, leading to a gray rump, a feature that is diagnostic of the species. Both sexes share a similar morphology.

Identification Tips

When attempting to identify the Red Fox Sparrow, look for the distinctive rufous crown and ear coverts on a gray head. The bird's throat is white, bordered by rufous stripes, and the bill transitions from yellow to black. The reddish-brown streaks on the breast and the messy central spot are key features, as are the streaks that continue down the flanks. The back's streaks and the gray rump are also indicative of this species.

Habitat

The Red Fox Sparrow favors dense willow and alder thickets, as well as spruce and fir bogs, particularly during its breeding season.

Distribution

This bird breeds across a wide band of mostly taiga habitat, extending from Newfoundland to northern Alaska. In winter, it migrates to temperate and subtropical regions of North America, including the northern United States and southern Canada, where it is often seen during migration.

Behaviour

During the breeding season, Red Fox Sparrows may choose to nest on the ground or in low shrubs and trees, typically less than 2 meters above the ground. They are known to start their spring migration around February, returning to their breeding grounds by early May. Come fall, they begin their journey southward in early October, with the last individuals leaving the northern areas by mid-November.

Song & calls

The vocalizations of the Red Fox Sparrow can be likened to a loud smack, reminiscent of the Brown Thrasher's call.

Breeding

The clutch of the Red Fox Sparrow consists of 3–5 pale blue to green eggs, heavily spotted with brown. Incubation, primarily by the female, lasts between 12 and 14 days. Both parents feed the altricial young, which fledge in 9 to 11 days.

Similar Species

The Yukon Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca zaboria) is similar to the Red Fox Sparrow but can be distinguished by a grayer head and a browner malar stripe. However, due to the subtle differences and the birds' migratory nature, positive identification within the Red Fox Sparrow complex can be challenging in the field.

Conservation status

The Red Fox Sparrow is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, indicating that it is not at immediate risk of population decline or extinction.

Red Fox Sparrow Sounds



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