Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dusky vs. Red Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrows are complicated. Sibley suggests that ornithologists will eventually recognize four species of Fox Sparrows: Red, Slate-colored, Thick-billed, and Sooty. These populations show differences in plumage, calls, songs, and DNA. See for photos. The trouble is that these populations apparently interbreed where they overlap. The group is also amazingly complex--at least 18 races are named that fall into one or another of these four "species" groups.

I have photos of two of these potential species. One, the Red Fox Sparrow, is a common migrant across Minnesota. The photo above is of one of my banded birds near Northfield. Erika and I found the Sooty Fox Sparrow, below, during our March travels up the Pacific Coast, near Newport, Oregon. Note that this bird allowed us close approach, perhaps due to a swollen tick under its apparently blind eye. The tips to its wing coverts suggest this bird is in its second year.


  1. Quite certain I saw a fox sparrow at my feeder this morning here in Burnsville--never seen one here before! Beautiful!

  2. The cold and snowy 2013 has witnessed extraordinary numbers of Fox Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos!