Family New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)

Least Concern

Red Fox-sparrow (Passerella iliaca)


French: Bruant fauve German: Fuchsammer Spanish: Chingolo zorruno

Fringilla iliaca


, 1786,

North America = Quebec, Canada


This species and P. schistacea, P. megarhyncha and P. unalaschcensis are often treated as conspecific. Some molecular data suggest that P. arborea may be sister-taxon of these four. Probably hybridizes occasionally with P. unalaschcensis near L Iliamna, at E end of Alaska Peninsula. Geographical variation largely clinal, making delimitation of races difficult; nominate race and zaboria intergrade into each other, and many individuals cannot safely be assigned to either race. Two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. i. zaboria Oberholser, 1946 – NW and interior Alaska and in W Canada from N Yukon and NW & CE Northwest Territories E to N Manitoba, S to N British Columbia, C Alberta and C Saskatchewan; winters in SE USA chiefly E of Great Plains, from E Kansas and S Iowa S to S Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and N Georgia.
  • P. i. iliaca (Merrem, 1786) – E Canada from NE Manitoba E to N Labrador, S to NC Ontario, SE Quebec and S Newfoundland; winters in SE Canada (S Ontario and, rarely, New Brunswick) and E USA from S Wisconsin and S Michigan E to N Vermont, S to S Mississippi, Alabama and C Florida.
  • Descriptive notes

    15–17 cm; 29·6–49 g. Large sparrow with long wings and relatively short tail. Nominate race has top of head grey with bright rusty-chestnut streaks, grey... read more


    Primary song a series of loud, clear, slurred ringing whistles on different pitches, usually ending... read more


    Breeds in dense deciduous thickets, commonly alders (Alnus) or willows (Salix),... read more

    Food and feeding

    During breeding season a wide variety of arthropods, including beetles (Coleoptera), fly larvae (Diptera), caterpillars (Lepidoptera), ants... read more


    Season early Apr through early Jul; in Newfoundland egg-laying commences as early as late Apr, most clutches begun in May and early Jun,... read more


    Migratory. Most winter E of Great Plains; uncommon on W coast and in S Arizona and New Mexico.... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Fairly common throughout range in suitable habitat. Breeds in fairly remote areas that have been little disturbed by humans, and wintering habitat... read more

    Recommended citation

    Rising, J. (2020). Red Fox-sparrow (Passerella iliaca). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 23 February 2020).