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Fox Sparrow
Passerella iliaca

The Fox Sparrow is a large sparrow that can be found in Tennessee during migration and in the winter. It frequently visits feeders, and its noisy double-footed scratching behavior makes it somewhat easier to detect while foraging in the leaf litter. This species has a large range that extends from the Aleutian islands of Alaska, across the northern forest of Canada, and south into California and Colorado. It comes in four distinct color-morphs, and the one most likely to be found in Tennessee is the Red or eastern form that breeds in the boreal forest of Canada and winters in the southeastern United States.

Description: This large stocky, round-headed sparrow is heavily streaked on the chest, with a messy central breast-spot, and a reddish tail. The "Red" Fox Sparrow has a reddish back with a gray rump, reddish streaks on the chest, and a gray and reddish patterned face. Adults and immatures look similar.

Length: 7"
Wingspan: 10.5"
Weight: 1.1 oz.

Voice: The song, which can be heard occasionally on warm winter days, is a low, rich, melodious warble.

Similar Species:

  • Song Sparrow has a similar pattern, but is smaller, and less reddish-brown. Both species can show a central chest-spot within their chest streaking.

Habitat: Found in shrubby fields and woodlands edges, often found in association with multiflora rose hedgerows. Also visits feeders.

Diet: Insects, occasionally seeds, fruit, and plant matter.

Nesting and reproduction: There are no records of Fox Sparrows nesting in Tennessee.

Status in Tennessee: The Fox Sparrow is a regular, uncommon migrant across the state, and an uncommon winter resident mostly in Middle and West Tennessee. It usually arrives by mid-October and departs by early April.

Dynamic map of Fox Sparrow eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • The Fox Sparrow that John James Audubon (1785-1851) first described in 1834 from southern Labrador, would have been the "Red" Fox Sparrow. He did not realize that this was a highly variable species across its broad range.
  • The oldest recorded Fox Sparrow was 10 years 4 months old. It had been previously banded in California, and was released unharmed in the same state.

Best place to see in Tennessee: The Fox Sparrow can be found in a variety of shrubby habitats, woodland edges, and at feeders, across the state.

For more information:


Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.

Weckstein, J. D., D. E. Kroodsma, and R. C. Faucett. 2002. Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca). The Birds of North America, No. 715. (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.