Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fox Sparrows

Sparrows are often overlooked by a lot of casual bird watchers. They're generally less colorful and more inconspicuous than other bird species, which can make them difficult to find and observe.

Late fall and early winter is one of the best times of the year to observe a variety of sparrows as they make their way into or through our area. Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows become common visitors to our gardens and bird feeding stations this time of year. Others like Field, Lincoln's, Vesper, and Chipping Sparrows have mostly left or moved through to warmer locations in the south.

The one sparrow species I look forward to seeing most each fall is the Fox Sparrow. Pictured below, the Fox Sparrow is much larger and more colorful than other frequently encountered sparrows. My poor pictures make it hard to realize how much larger the Fox Sparrow is than other species, but you can get an idea of its beautiful coloration. The rusty red coloration is present throughout the chest, face, back and tail of the Fox Sparrow. A deep gray color mixes with the rusty red across the bird's face, back, and wings.

Fox Sparrow from the side

Fox Sparrow from the front

Other than the obvious physical field marks of the Fox Sparrow, I find its behavior to be a key element in locating and identifying the species. These sparrows, like many, frequent locations with heavy brush and/or thick undergrowth. It is in these locations where they forage for food.

Unlike chickens and turkeys who scratch the ground with alternating succession of their feet, these guys prefer the two-footed scratching method. It looks like a difficult maneuver to pull off, but they seem to do it with ease.

Take a look under your bird feeders over the next couple weeks and keep an eye out for this beautiful, large sparrow. They do tend to frequent feeders while in migration. Once winter sets in, seek them out in your local parks and other areas with heavy undergrowth. My favorite location for Fox Sparrows in the winter is Croton Point Park near Ossining, NY.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

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