The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 15, 2002


Biodiversity Corner

Fox Sparrow

Name: Fox Sparrow or Passerella iliaca (subspecies: Red)

Found: At a bird-feeding station off Concord Street, almost daily since mid-November.

Distinguishing characteristics: Large for a sparrow, with rich, red-earth-toned streaks on a gray back; streaks and blotches on white underparts. Wings also reddish-brown; tail even more reddish. Has sturdy legs good for vigorous scratching on the ground, which it does with a rocking motion. Often makes little depressions or leaf piles where it has scratched to uncover insects and seeds. Will eat birdseed (millet, cracked corn, sunflower) if you scatter it on the ground near or underneath dense evergreens or thickets. It needs cover for hiding from hawks. Other enemies are mammals such as cats and you guessed it! (However, its name comes from the foxy color, not because it is on the fox's menu.) Common call is a high-pitched seeeeep, similar to many sparrows, but rather loud.

Where and when to look: Our subspecies of Fox Sparrow (there are others in the west) breeds in the northern taiga and mainly winters south of Massachusetts. The birds pass through Carlisle woods (including backyards) in late March and early April, and again in November. Warm late-fall weather tempted at least three to stay in Carlisle this winter.

Reference: Sibley Guide to Birds

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito