South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Fox Sparrow

Passerella iliaca

Length: 7 inches Wingspan: 11 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Large size for a sparrow, ground-scratching behavior, triangular spots on underparts

Fox Sparrow - Paserella iliacaThe Fox Sparrow is a large, chunky bird which only visits South Dakota during migration.  Somewhat shy birds, they strongly prefer thick vegetation, and are most often seen on the ground as they scratch for food items.  There are a great many color variations depending on geographic area.

Habitat: Prefers brushy areas, primarily thick forest undergrowth.  Can be found in suburban areas, but usually around well-vegetated areas.

Diet: Primarily feeds on seeds, especially during migration and the winter.  In the summer, also feeds heavily on insects and spiders.  May also occasionally feed on fruits and berries, and small marine life along the coasts.

Behavior: Primarily feeds on the ground, often scratching through the leaf litter. 

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota.  In breeding range, the Fox Sparrow nest is a cup of grasses, weeds, and other plant material, built in a shrub or small tree, usually within 10 feet of the ground.  The female usually lays between 3 and 5 eggs, and she alone incubates them.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young.  The young fledge in about 10 days.

Song: Fox Sparrow Song

Migration: Summers throughout Canada, Alaska, and higher elevations of the western United States.  Winters throughout the southeastern United States, along the U.S. West Coast, the Southwest U.S., and Mexico.

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Fox Sparrow sightings

Similar Species: Song Sparrow

Bird Feeders:  Will attend feeders for scattered birdseed and bread crumbs.

Conservation Status: Generally stable, although counts in some regions show possible slight declines in recent decades.  Overall, there are no serious concerns for Fox Sparrow populations, and the IUCN lists the Fox Sparrow as a species of "Least concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Fox Sparrow

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Fox Sparrow"

3) Fox Sparrow

Photo Information: November 4th, 2007 - Big Sioux Recreation Area near Brandon - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Fox Sparrow photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Fox Sparrow - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant in the eastern half of the state, rare in the west.  Casual in winter.