Passerella Iliaca – Fox Sparrow

Passerella Iliaca - Fox Sparrow

Passerella Iliaca, commonly known as fox sparrow is a large New World sparrow. It is the only Passerella in the Passerellidae family.

During banding operations in California in 2003, the oldest known Fox Sparrow was recaptured and rereleased. This was the same state where it had previously been banned, and it was at least 10 years and 4 months old at the time. 

Quick Overview: Passerella Iliaca – Fox Sparrow
Body size: Around 6.75-7.5 in (17-19 cm) and a weight of 31 g (1.1 oz)
Main colors: Orange-yellow, Brown, Red, Gray, White
Range: North, South, Western United States
Migratory Bird: Yes
Best time of the year to see in the U.S.: January, February, June, July, August, September, December
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Fox sparrow Description

The fox sparrow is one of the largest sparrows, weighing between 26.9 and 49.0 grams. There are 18 races of fox sparrows, all of which are large but look different. It has a long tail and an orange-yellow bill. Their breasts have dark brown streaks that meet at one point. Their rump and tail are red or rust, and their heads are grayish. Their breasts are blotchy white.

Passerella Iliaca - Fox Sparrow
Passerella Iliaca – Fox Sparrow. Source: Wikipedia


These birds have a length of 6.75-7.5 in (17-19 cm) and a weight of 31 g (1.1 oz). Their wings could range from 10-5-11.75 in (27-30 cm).


They eat everything. On the ground, they forage by double scratching and kicking backward with both feet. Insects and seeds are buried in the leaf litter and ground. In particular, they seek Polygonum seeds and blueberries (knotweed).


In coniferous or mixed forests with dense undergrowth and shrubs, fox sparrows breed. They breed in the scrub, chaparral, and riparian woodland. During the winter, fox sparrows frequent forests, forest edges, woodlots, and other densely wooded areas.


Solitary or in pairs during the breeding season, small flocks migrate. During the breeding season, the male sings a lot. Diurnal. They migrate at night and sing during the day and males are aggressively territorial. They defend it by darting at intruders, forcing them out. They fly fast and straight.

Passerella iliaca Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Chelicerata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Passerellidae
  • Genus: Passerella
  • Species: Passerella iliaca

Best time of the year to see

The best time to see these birds in the United States are during summer (June to September) and winter (December to February).

Distribution of the Fox sparrow in the USA

Passerella iliaca inhabits much of northern and western North America. During the breeding season, they are found in northern Canada, Alaska, and western North America. In the winter, they migrate from southern British Columbia to northern Baja California. They also cover much of the southern United States, from northern Mexico to Illinois and Connecticut.

The Fox sparrow can be found in the following states in the United States – Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Passerella Iliaca – Fox Sparrow

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