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!
That's great! I love the Song and Fox Sparrows in the same photo! Great advice, too.
I don't know if I could ever get tired of looking at Fox Sparrows, whereas I often do get tired of looking at Song Sparrows, particularly if I'm aiming for Savannah, Lincoln's, etc.
This was an informative post. I don't usually got Fox Sparrows at my feeders in Ohio until late winter (February, March), and they always seem much larger than the other sparrows. I find it very interesting to see the regional variations in bird species through other birders' blogs. Thanks again for sharing!
Excellent pictures posted with good written description.
Thanks Laura! I've been in a great debate with myself as to whether some of my photos of song sparrows were actually fox sparrows. After reading your post I think I have it straight and now realize that I still haven't photographed a fox sparrow.
Another way to tell a fox from a song sparrow is that the fox has a yellow lower mandible - but the song's sparrow's mandible is all dark. Sometimes that requires binos, of course.
So happy to finally know the difference between the two! Thank you so much for the clarification. I've never been able to tell them apart and I've been birding since 1995!
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