Monday, April 15, 2013

New Yard Bird: Fox Sparrow

Amidst the many dark-eyed juncos we've been seeing in the last few days a new visitor suddenly appeared: a fox sparrow. Its rusty red tail caught my eye first; then I noticed how large and plump it looked next to the juncos. The heavily streaked breast is another field mark of this large sparrow.

This was the first fox sparrow we've seen at our house. A new entry in our "yard list"! Those are pretty rare at this point. I'm not sure if I've ever seen a fox sparrow at all before, in fact. It's a very distinctive bird, with its rust-red-and-gray coloring, bold facial markings and heavily streaked breast. There are considerable regional variations in color and bill thickness, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, with "sooty," "slate-colored" and "thick-billed" variants seen in various parts of the West, as well as the rusty red variant that is widely distributed across the northern boreal forests.

Fox sparrow at center right, with male (darker) and female juncos
Rice County records on eBird show that fox sparrows are seen here only in migration, in late March through late April and again in late September through October. The Cornell Lab describes them as birds of dense thickets and scrubby, brushy woods, with a rich, musical whistle. They breed in remote locations in the northwestern mountain states, northwestern and far northern Canada, and Alaska. They spend their winters in the coastal West and the south and southeastern states.

The streaky breast is supposed to concentrate on one large central chest spot, but I wasn't able to get a photo of that. The bird was quite skittish and quick to fly away if it sensed movement, even through the window where I was watching and trying to take photos unobtrusively.


Miles B. said...

I'm so glad you posted this. I've noticed 2 of these among the seemingly hundreds of juncos this spring(?). They scratch at the food on the snow like a chicken

Miles B. said...

I've had two this spring(?). New to my yard. Scratches the ground/snow to find food. Thanks for posting.

Maggie Lindberg said...

Yes, I just saw this bird for the first time 3 days ago (Ap 16, 2013)under our Lake Elmo bird feeder and couldn't find it in my bird book until today. We've been logging birds in our book since moving here in 1982.

Miles B. said...

elpinve 428I've got about 6 now, I'm in Cottage Grove, odd that we've never noticed them before, our harsh winter maybe?

Anonymous said...

Spotted one yesterday, was not sure what it was. It did not seem to mind me taking its picture. Mission BC

Penelopedia said...

Thanks for your note. Mission, BC, looks as if it's in one of the few areas where fox sparrows can be found throughout the year. I hope you can see them again.