Mendocino Coast Audubon Society logo Mendocino Coast Audubon Society

Fox Sparrow

fox sparrow

Fox Sparrow by Pam Huntley, as heard on

Fox Sparrows are winter visitors to the Mendocino Coast.

They are in their own genus, and are large sparrow (7 inches in length) with larger feet than other sparrows and longer toes for scratching deeper on the ground.

Fox Sparrows are brown with heavily-streaked breasts of triangular markings that merge to a central spot. The legs are pale.

There are more than 15 subspecies that migrate through, or winter, in California. Our Pacific subspecies is grayer on the back and head and has a thick bill. Fox Sparrows with mostly rusty backs tend to be from Eastern and Central Canada, while the mostly brown backs are from western Canada or Alaska.

Fox Sparrows winter here from September through April. They are found in brushy thickets, parks, gardens and suburban backyard where they may be seen at feeders. Their songs are sweet and melodic.

The Pacific race has a sharp “chink” call like that of the California Towhee.

They feed by hopping back and forth on the ground to scratch up seed, berries and bugs. In the spring they return to mountain slopes at elevations from 3,000- 9,600 feet. Here their habitat is chaparral, riparia, aspen stands and open pine forest.

Adults build a cup-shaped nest on the ground or in a low shrub or tree. The nest is built of twigs, grass, moss and shredded bark and lined with hair. Fox Sparrows typically build two nests every season with the second located at a lower elevation, perhaps because of melting snow. A female lays 3-4 pale green eggs marked with reddish brown markings. She incubates them for 2 weeks and feeds insects to the chicks.

First published November 1, 2013 MCAS Black Oystercatcher
Fox Sparrow photo by Ron LeValley