The fox sparrow can be distinguished from other sparrows by its dark head the lack of streaks on the upper areas. It is a large sparrow with very large feet that it uses to scratch the ground with. It has a dark sooty head, back, and wings. Its breast is light with dark streaks all the way down to its underside.
We have two varieties here on the Island, the fox sparrow and the sooty fox sparrow. The sooty has a much brighter beak that is yellow while the fox sparrow has a dark beak and darker legs and feet. Their song is a short series of two or three blurred notes followed by a series of shorter notes. On South Vancouver Island they are only heard in the spring but on north Vancouver Island where they nest, you can see them all year long.
You can see them in thickets and brushy woodlands and can often be found in urban areas where yards are mature with lots of growth and trees. You can often see them at backyard feeders in the winter months, sometimes we see upwards of thirty or more at our feeders when it’s cold outside.
Thick shrubby growth is the preferred breeding and nesting habitat of the fox sparrow, the female builds a bulky cup nest of bark shreds, twigs, moss, and weed stems on the ground or in a low shrub, she will lay up to 5 pale blue eggs with heavy chestnut mottling, the female does most of the incubating, the eggs hatch in about 14 days. Both parents tend the young, who leave the nest in about 11 days.
When foraging, the fox sparrow will often feed on the ground using the double scratch method, kicking backward with both feet with such force as to create a hole in the ground to expose food items. Plant foods consist of weed seeds, blueberries, grapes, elderberries, and other plant matter. Their diet is rounded out with animal foods consisting of beetles, crane flies, spiders, millipedes, and other insects and arthropods.