Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Fox Sparrow - Passerella iliaca
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General Comments The Fox Sparrow has a number of quite distinctive subspecies across its wide range, from the Pacific to the Maritimes of Canada, and south into much of the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas. In fact, it is likely that the species will be split into several species in the near future, though only the "foxy" rusty-colored Eastern subspecies has ever been recorded in North Carolina. The species winters across much of the Eastern states, but its nesting range does not even hit the northern Appalachians. In North Carolina, it winters in all counties, but is not numerous in the mountains nor along the coastal islands. Wintering habitat is usually near evergreen cover within forests and woodlands, as well as their edges. Broadleaf evergreen shrubs and understory trees under a pine or mixed canopy are favored habitats. Smaller numbers winter in dense hedgerows and thickets. Unlike most wintering sparrows, Fox Sparrows can be quite erratic in numbers from week to week and month to month, within a given winter, and also from one winter to the next. However, when snow covers the ground, they may come out of the forests to forage at bird feeders, though typically just on the ground under feeders. Their musical song is often heard on warm winter or early spring days.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident. Generally fairly common over the entire region, though uncommon along the immediate coast (Outer Banks and other barrier islands); seems to be most numerous in the northeastern part of the region (on the mainland), south through the Pamlimarle Peninsula. Mainly late Oct to early Apr. Peak counts:
Piedmont Winter resident. Fairly common in the eastern portion, uncommon to fairly common in the central portion, and uncommon in the western/foothill region. Mainly early Nov to late Mar; latest date is 7 May. Peak counts:
Mountains Winter resident, with migratory movements. In winter, generally uncommon in the low elevations (below about 2,500 feet), and rare above that elevation, at least by midwinter. Can be slightly more numerous in migration, at least in early spring. Mainly early Nov to late Mar or early Apr; latest date is 10 May. Peak counts:
Finding Tips Most easily found in the eastern part of the Coastal Plain, in nonriverine swamp and bottomland forests with much broadleaf evergreen cover, such as Alligator River NWR.
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Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-31], LeGrand[2012-11-06], LeGrand[2011-12-18]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.