Yes, it's that time again.....when we in the Northwest are inundated with wintering sparrows! White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Juncos, White-throated and Fox all come into town. I often hear newer birders lament that they cannot tell the difference between a Song and a Fox Sparrow. Sure, they are both "little brown birds" but they show several big differences, too. One can spend time trying to turn a Song Sparrow into a Fox Sparrow but when you really know what to look for the species are simple to tell apart.
Here's what I saw in my yard just now. A dirt colored bird with a subtle eye-ring and a yellow lower mandible. It scratched for food on the ground, indicating it is in the sparrow family.
The back is a uniform brown and there is no striping on the face. The breast shows heavy streaks that look like arrowheads as well as a dark central breast spot. This is a Fox Sparrow.
It was joined by another bird, with a striped back, gray and brown stripes on the face and crown, no eye ring, and streaks on the chest. This is a Song Sparrow.
It's really satisfying to show people the clear differences in these two birds. Some species just get people mixed up, especially when one is only here in the winter. But if you've seen enough Song Sparrows you'll know it when something looks different about a bird and maybe it'll be a Fox! A behavior clue about the Fox is that it scratches on the ground harder and faster than any other sparrow I've ever seen. It could dig a hole to China while the Songs were still mucking around on the surface. I'm not thinking my soon-to-be-put-down grass seed is going to fare well even under a layer of mulch.
Happy Sparrow Hunting!