Birds – Fox Sparrow

(Passerella ilica) Finch family



Length—6.5 to 7.25 inches. Nearly an inch longer than the English sparrow.

Male and Female—Upper parts reddish brown, varied with ash-gray, brightest on lower back, wings, and tail. Bluish slate about the head. Underneath whitish; the throat, breast, and sides heavily marked with arrow-heads and oblong dashes of reddish brown and blackish.

Range—Alaska and Manitoba to southern United States. Winters chiefly south of Illinois and Virginia. Occasional stragglers remain north most of the winter.

Migrations—March. November. Most common in the migrations.

There will be little difficulty in naming this largest, most plump and reddish of all the sparrows, whose fox-colored feathers, rather than any malicious cunning of its disposition, are responsible for the name it bears. The male bird is incomparably the finest singer of its gifted family. His faint tseep call-note gives no indication of his vocal powers that some bleak morning in early March suddenly send a thrill of pleasure through you. It is the most welcome “glad surprise” of all the spring. Without a preliminary twitte: or throat-clearing of any sort, the full, rich, luscious tones, with just a tinge of plaintiveness in them, are poured forth with spontaneous abandon. Such a song at such a time is enough to summon anybody with a musical ear out of doors under the leaden skies to where the delicious notes issue from the leafless shrubbery by the roadside. Watch the singer until the song ends, when he will quite likely descend among the dead leaves on the ground and scratch among them like any barn-yard fowl, but somehow contriving to use both feet at once in the operation, as no chicken ever could. He seems to take special delight in damp thickets, where the insects with which he varies his seed diet are plentiful.

Usually the fox sparrows keep in small, loose flocks, apart by themselves, for they are not truly gregarious ; but they may sometimes be seen travelling in company with their white-throated cousins. They are among the last birds to leave us in the late autumn or winter. Mr. Bicknell says that they seem in-disposed to sing unless present in numbers. Indeed, they are little inclined to absolute solitude at any time, for even in the nesting season quite a colony of grassy nurseries may be found in the same meadow, and small companies haunt the roadside shrubbery during the migrations.