On Sunday a Fox Sparrow came to visit. These little birds occasionally show up in our yard, but they aren’t regulars, so it is always fun to see one hopping around on the ground with the other sparrows.
In our yard at least, Fox Sparrows seem to be loners. I’ve never seen more than one at a time. The White-Throated Sparrows tend to visit in small flocks and there always seem to be several Chipping Sparrows together. We don’t see a lot of House Sparrows for some reason, but there are always at least a pair. Not the Fox Sparrows. There always seems to be just the one.
Fox Sparrows look a bit like Song Sparrows, but the streaks on their chest are bolder and splotchier. Their coloring can vary a bit. In my region, they tend to be very foxy red overall; that and their heavier look, makes them stand out to me. So when there is a Fox Sparrow hanging out with the more common White-Throated Sparrows and Dark-Eyed Juncos, it will usually catch my eye right away.
Fox Sparrows breed way up north and so aren’t to be found in the Mid-Atlantic much of the year. They show up in the fall and winter. Like most sparrows, they like feeding on the ground. In warm weather, I don’t usually put seed on the ground, but when the fall sparrows and juncos arrive, each day I will toss a few small handfuls of white proso millet over the ground near the brush pile I’ve made near the house.
Brush piles are popular with a lot of birds; they provide year-round cover where they can quickly escape at the sudden appearance of a predator like the Cooper’s Hawks that sometimes hunt at our feeders. I’ve got three brush piles in my yard. They solve what to do with fallen branches (our yard has many trees) and make small birds happy.
Fox Sparrows seem to be more cautious than some of the other sparrows in the yard. The one that visited the other day stuck very close to the brush pile, rarely moving beyond six inches out from its safety. Some of this might be extra caution of being new to the yard, but even at the end of the day, he didn’t venture more than a foot or two from the pile and was quick to retreat back.
He’s not totally timid though. When one of the little flock of White-Throated Sparrows got close, the Fox Sparrow did a little vertical jump, but stayed put and the other sparrow would move a bit away. As long as they maintain their favored spacing, the Fox Sparrow seemed to coexist with them peacefully enough.
Sparrows are funny little creatures. Without hands, they need to use their feet and legs to search for seeds and insects in the leaf litter on the ground. So they do a jump forward and then a quick drag of their feet back to expose a little patch of ground. It’s a pretty common behavior among sparrows although Eastern Towhees will do this little move too.
I just saw this little guy the one day and haven’t seen him since, so he may have moved on, but I was glad he stopped by.
To learn more about Fox Sparrows, check out All About Birds’ Fox Sparrow Page.
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