Bird of the Week



Photo courtesy Byron Greco

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the fox sparrow.

This sparrow is named for the fox-like red color of eastern populations, which is not the type that we are likely to find here. Over a dozen subspecies of fox sparrows are divided into four main groups: red, thick-billed, slate-colored and sooty. Each group has a characteristic appearance and preference for vegetation type.

The breeding range of fox sparrows extends across the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska, and includes the Pacific coastal mountains and interior mountains of the West. In summer, it can be found in high-elevation wet meadows like those at the top of Wolf Creek Pass and in other dense vegetation.

Most often the type that can be found in our area belongs to the slate-colored group. For a sparrow, it is relatively large and chunky, with a gray head and back, and rufous-colored wings and tail. Its breast is heavily spotted with triangular-shaped marks that converge in a dark central spot. It has a small, two-toned bill.

In all seasons, this bird hides in dense thickets and brush, and only its noisy double scratching like a towhee among the leaf litter may give it away. It feeds on insects, other invertebrates, seeds, small fruits and plant buds. In migration to winter areas south from California to New Mexico, one may show up looking for seed under feeders as long as there is cover to duck into.

This is one bird which may benefit from logging and forest fires when regrowth takes the form of new, shrubby habitat.

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