- Passerella iliaca
15 - 18.5cm (6-7ΒΌ in) A large American sparrow with four rather distinctive groups:
 Sooty Fox Sparrow
- Uniform brownish plumage with densely spotted breast
- Slightly shorter-winged and longer-tailed than Red Fox Sparrow
- Dark flanks and undertail-coverts
- Subspecies breeding south are darkest, those breeding farthest north and west are palest
 Thick-billed Fox Sparrow
- Plain grey back, slightly redder wings and tail
- Faint or no wing-bars
- Strikingly large bill
- Smaller blackish spots on breast than other groups
 Slate-colored Fox Sparrow
- Plumage like Thick-billed but heavier spotting on underparts and no massive bill
 Red Fox Sparrow
- The most brightly marked group
- Crown and auriculars patterned rufous on grey
- Upperparts distinctly streaked rufous and grey
- Rufous tail
- Whitish tertial edges
- Distinctive whitish wing-bars
- Well defined rufous spots on breast, black streaks on flanks
Breeds in Alaska and western Canada across central Canada to Newfoundland and in the west ranges south to California and Colorado.
Winters mainly in the eastern half of the USA.
Fairly common in suitable habitat.
In the Western Palearctic recorded in Iceland (1), Ireland (Copeland Islands, Co Down, June 1961), Germany (May 1949, April 1977) and a 1936 record from north-west Italy.
Up to 19 subspecies currently recognized, divided in four groups (all of them sometimes recognized as full species):
- Sooty Fox Sparrow - unalaschcensis group
Sooty Fox Sparrow, subspecies P. i. sinuosa
Photo © by Joseph Morlan
Kenai Peninsula, Homer, Alaska
, 17 May 2017
- P. i. unalaschcensis breeds on eastern Aleutian Islands to the Alaska Peninsula, winters to southern California
- P. i. insularis on the Kodiak Island group in Alaska, winters to southern California
- P. i. sinuosa on the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound, winters to northwest Baja de California, Mexico
- P. i. annectens in the Yakutat Bay region, Alaska, winters to southern California
- P. i. townsendi from Glacier Bay to Queen Charlotte Islands, Alaska, winters to central California
- P. i. chicatensis in Alaska
- P. i. fuliginosa in coastal southeast Alaska to northwest Washington, winters to southern California
- Thick-billed Fox Sparrow - megarhyncha group
- P. i. fulva in Oregon east of Cascade Mountains to northeast California, winters to northern Baja de California, Mexico
- P. i. megarhyncha from the mountains of southwest Oregon to central California, winters to northwest Baja de California, Mexico
- P. i. brevicauda in inner and northern coast ranges of California, winters to southern California
- P. i. stephensi in the Sierra Nevada and the high mountains of southern California, winters at lower elevations
- P. i. monoensis in the Mono Lake area of east-central California and adjacent Nevada, winters to northwest Baja de California, Mexico
- Slate-colored Fox Sparrow - schistacea group
- P. i. zaboria from northwest Alaska to southwest Canada, winters east of the Great Plains to central and southern USA
- P. i. iliaca from Labrador and Newfoundland to southeast Quebec and Ontario, winters in the eastern USA
Hedgerows, stream-sides and woodland edges with dense vegetation.
Forages by scratching on the ground with both feet like a towhee.
Feeds mainly on insects during breeding season. In winter feeds on fruits, seeds and buds.
Breeding season from early April to July. Single-brooded and apparently monogamous.
The nest is made of dry grass, twigs, moss or bark. It's placed low above the ground in a bush or a tree. Lays clutch of 2 to 4 (usually 3) pale bluish green eggs, marked with spots, blotches, and cloudings of reddish brown. Rarely parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbird.
- Sooty Fox Sparrow: Song is a loud series of staccato notes rising and falling on different pitches. Call is a loud "thik" similar to the call note of Slate-colored Fox Sparrow.
- Slate-colored Fox Sparrow: Song variable but clear and ringing starting with 2-3 syllables on different pitches with alternate notes emphasized. Resembles song of Green-tailed Towhee. Call is a metallic "tik" recalling sharp note of Lincoln's Sparrow.
- Thick-billed Fox Sparrow: Song is similar to Slate-colored Fox Sparrow but call note is a distinctive "klink" recalling California Towhee.
- Red Fox Sparrow: Song is a long series of loud, clear slurred whistles on different pitches ending with a buzzy whistle. Call note is a loud "smack."
A migratory species. Sooty populations famous for "leapfrog" migration in which those breeding furthest north migrate furthest south.
- Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
- Del Hoyo, J, A Elliott, and D Christie, eds. 2011. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 16: Tanagers to New World Blackbirds. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8496553781
- Beadle, D. & Rising J. (2002) Sparrows of the United States and Canada: The Photographic Guide. Academic Press
- Rising, J. (2020). Red Fox-sparrow (Passerella iliaca). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/61902 on 25 January 2020).
- Rising, J. (2020). Sooty Fox-sparrow (Passerella unalaschcensis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/61905 on 25 January 2020).
- Rising, J. (2020). Slate-colored Fox-sparrow (Passerella schistacea). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/61903 on 25 January 2020).
- Rising, J. (2020). Thick-billed Fox-sparrow (Passerella megarhyncha). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/61904 on 25 January 2020).
- Weckstein, J. D., D. E. Kroodsma, and R. C. Faucett (2002). Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.715
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