Fox Sparrow

(Passerella iliaca)

Conservation Status
Fox Sparrow
Photo by Laurie Wachholz
  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern


N5B, N5N - Secure Breeding and Nonbreeding

SNRN - Unranked Nonbreeding


not listed


This sometimes heard but rarely seen bird has heavy, reddish-brown streaks on the breast in addition to a central breast spot. The wings, rump, and tail are reddish-brown. The crown and the nape of the neck are gray.




6½ to 7in length

10½ wingspan




Similar Species


Breeding: Not in Minnesota

Migration: Thickets near streams and rivers, brushy woodland openings and edges




Mid-March to late May and early September to mid-October








Insects and other invertebrates, seeds, fruits, and plant buds




Common migrant




The Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union All Seasons Species Occurrence Map

  Class Aves (birds)  


Passeriformes (perching birds)  


Passerellidae (New World sparrows)  


Passerella (fox sparrows)  

New World sparrows were traditionally combined with buntings into the family Emberizidae. Recent phylogenetic analysis (Barker et al. 2013) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis (Klicka et al. 2014) found that the Old World buntings should be separated as a sister to New World sparrows. New World sparrows have been separated into a new family, Passerellidae.


Subordinate Taxa


There are 18 subspecies of Fox Sparrow currently recognized. The American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) organizes these into a single species. Under this classification scheme, the species is organized into four subspecies groups. The International Ornithological Congress (IOC) elevates these groups to species level. Beginning with the 6th edition in 1984 the AOU Checklist lists no subspecies of any birds.


Red Fox Sparrow Group

Eastern Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca iliaca)

Yukon Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca zaboria) (?)


Slate-colored Fox Sparrow Group

Alberta Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca altivagans)

Interior Slate-colored Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca schistacea)

Inyo Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca canescens)

Utah Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca swarthi)

Washington Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca olivacea)


Sooty Fox Sparrow Group

Aleutian Sooty Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca unalaschcensis)

Chilkat Sooty Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca chilcatensis)

Kodiac Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca insularis)

Salish Sooty Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca fuliginosa)

Townsend’s Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca townsendi)

Valdez Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca sinuosa)

Yakutat Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca annectens)


Thick-billed Fox Sparrow Group

Mono Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca monoensis)

Northern Thick-billed Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca megarhyncha)

Stephens’s Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca stephensi)

Trinity Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca brevicauda)

Warner Mountains Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca fulva)

Yosemite Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca mariposae)




Fringilla iliaca

Zonotrichia iliaca











Visitor Photos

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Laurie Wachholz

    Fox Sparrow      






  Fox Sparrow
Allen Chartier
  Fox Sparrow  
  Fox Sparrow
Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren
  Fox Sparrow  
  Red Fox Sparrow
JMC Nature Photos
  Red Fox Sparrow  



Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  Fox Sparrow (Red Morph) in Maine
WIld Bird Video Productions

Published on Jun 15, 2012

While a fairly common bird feeder visitor during the fall and early winter, fox sparrows can be extremely difficult to film on their boreal breeding grounds. They tend to stay buried in thick balsam fir or spruce trees but will come out to the open to sing. They have a very hearty and loud song. © 2012 Garth McElroy

License at

  Fox Sparrow

Uploaded on Oct 23, 2008

Fox sparrow digging through empty sunflower seed shells under a bird feeding station looking for food. Though this kicking action is a normal way for this bird to find food, it is a good reminder to keep your bird feeding station clean.

  Fox Sparrow singing
Alvan Buckley

Published on Apr 9, 2013

This Fox Sparrow was a recent migrant in Waterloo, Ontario. I recorded this video with a Swarovski ATM 80HD + Canon s95.

American Crow, Dark-eyed Junco, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch, American Robin, Red-winged Blackbird, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, and Black-capped Chickadees are all singing in the background!

  Eastern Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca iliaca), Transylvania County, NC

Published on Feb 24, 2013

Eastern Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca iliaca), Transylvania County, NC
Shot 2/22/2013

  Fox Sparrow
eBirdr Channel

Published on Sep 18, 2013

This sparrow is fairly common throughout North America in dense brush in coniferous or mixed woodlands, chaparral. It is a large sparrow and highly variable. Some western mountain birds have gray heads and back. Some birds have big thick bills. Most birds have a bright rufous rump and tail that is conspicuous when it flies. It is heavy streaked on sides and breast. This streaking converges into a central breast spot. Like a Towhee it scratches noisily on the ground. The song is a brilliant assortment of clear notes and whistles.

This footage was captured south of St. John's Newfoundland in June 2013.




Visitor Sightings

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  Janene Roessler
11/20 to 11/23/2022

Location: 3 miles north of Preston, in Fillmore County


Location: Bagley, Mn

foraging near barberry bushes

  Lynn Maalis

Location: Deerwood Mn.

East of Deerwood Minnesota along the Cedarbrook, on the edge of old farmstead gravel driveway near woods.


Location: Shoreview Mn

Eating dried mealworms at bottom of feeder by pine tree, along with Junco’s. Bluebirds sit mostly on feeder.

  Jeff W

Location: Eagan, MN

Saw 1 on the ground under seed feeder


Location: Andover

  Tarene Rood

Location: Crystal, MN

seen 2







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