Family New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)

Least Concern

Slate-colored Fox-sparrow (Passerella schistacea)


French: Bruant ardoisé German: Schieferammer Spanish: Chingolo pizarroso

Passerella schistacea

S. F. Baird

, 1858,

“Head of the Platte” = south fork of Platte River, about 25 miles [c. 40 km] east of north-eastern corner of Colorado, in Nebraska, USA


See remarks under P. iliaca. Race altivagans sometimes treated as a race of P. iliaca; looks similar to race zaboria of latter and also to P. unalaschcensis, probably reflecting low-level introgression with both species, although genetic studies suggest that frequency of such interbreeding is low. Race fulva sometimes placed in P. megarhyncha. Six subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. s. olivacea Aldrich, 1943 – SW Canada (SC & SW British Columbia) S to NW USA (C & E Washington); non-breeding in SW USA (interior California) and extreme NW Mexico (N Baja California).
  • P. s. altivagans Riley, 1911 – interior C & SE British Columbia and SW Alberta; non-breeding principally SW USA (Cascades and Sierra Nevada, in California, and SW Arizona) and extreme NW Mexico (NW Baja California).
  • P. s. schistacea S. F. Baird, 1858 – extreme S Canada (extreme SE British Columbia and SC Alberta) S in USA through NC & E Oregon and N Idaho to NC & NE Nevada, E to W Montana, SW Wyoming and C Colorado; non-breeding in interior of N California, C Arizona and N New Mexico S to N Baja California, S Arizona and W Texas.
  • P. s. swarthi Behle & Selander, 1951 – W USA (SE Idaho and NW Utah).
  • P. s. fulva Swarth, 1918 – W USA (E side of Cascade Range in C Oregon S to Modoc Plateau, in NE California); non-breeding in SW California and N Baja California.
  • P. s. canescens Swarth, 1918 – C Nevada and extreme CE California (White Mts); non-breeding in S California, N Baja California and S Arizona.
  • Descriptive notes

    15–18 cm; 26–35 g. Large sparrow with relatively long tail. Nominate race has head slate-coloured, pale lores, whitish submoustachial stripe with dark streaks;... read more


    Song clear and ringing, starting with 2–3 syllables on different pitches, “too-wheet-... read more


    Breeds in impenetrable riparian thickets of mountain meadows, with alder (Alnus), water... read more

    Food and feeding

    In breeding season primarily insects, e.g. beetles (Coleoptera), probably also other invertebrates, seeds and berries when available. In... read more


    Season mid-May to mid-Jul; probably single-brooded. Probably monogamous. Nest construction requires two days; nest made from dry grass,... read more


    Most populations migratory, spending non-breeding season in interior of California, C Arizona and... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Fairly common throughout its range in suitable habitat. No indication of any change or reduction in numbers.

    Recommended citation

    Rising, J. (2020). Slate-colored Fox-sparrow (Passerella schistacea). 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 28 February 2020).