Fox Sparrow

Passerella iliaca
Range Map

Fox Sparrows are North America’s largest sparrow. There are four different forms of this bird (“Red”, “Sooty”, “Slate-Colored”, and “Large-Billed”) and their range covers most of North America, north of Mexico. Some birds will winter in northern Baja California in Mexico. There is disagreement among scientists as to whether the four “groups” should be given full species status.

Breeding birds will migrate to the northern Rocky Mountains, the northern Sierra Nevada Range of California and Oregon, but most will travel as far north as British Columbia and Alaska, east to the Hudson Bay region and all the way to Labrador and Nova Scotia Canada.

Some authorities recognise up to 18 subspecies of Fox Sparrow. Other sources suggest the following short list:

  • P. i. iliaca or Red Fox Sparrow, breeds in the taiga of Canada and Alaska. They spend winters in central and eastern North America.
  • P. i. unalaschcensis or Sooty Fox Sparrow, breeds along the Pacific coast of North America from the Aleutian Islands south to Washington. They spend winters from southeastern Alaska south to Baja California (Mexico).
  • P. i. schistacea or Slate-Colored Fox Sparrow, breeds in interior western North America. They spend winters in the south and west of their breeding range.
  • P. i. megarhyncha or Thick-Billed Fox Sparrow lives in northern California and Oregon.

I first met the Fox Sparrow in southeastern Alaska in 2005. Later (2009), I met one of these birds at my home on Poway (California), but the mountains in the back country of San Diego County (California) were my most successful for gathering images.

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