Family New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)

Least Concern

Sooty Fox-sparrow (Passerella unalaschcensis)


French: Bruant fuligineux German: Aleutenammer Spanish: Chingolo fuliginoso

Emberiza unalaschcensis

J. F. Gmelin

, 1789,

Unalaska, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, USA


See remarks under P. iliaca. Nominate race probably hybridizes occasionally with P. iliaca near L Iliamna, at E end of Alaska Peninsula. When placed in genus Zonotrichia, race name insularis invalid, as preoccupied, and replaced by ridgwayi. Geographical variation appears to be mainly clinal. Seven subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. u. unalaschcensis (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – from Aleutian Is (E from Unalaska) E, including Shumagin Is and Semidi Is, to Alaska Peninsula; non-breeding from extreme SW Canada (SW British Columbia) S in W USA to California.
  • P. u. insularis Ridgway, 1900 – Kodiak Is group, in Alaska; non-breeding coastal S California.
  • P. u. sinuosa Grinnell, 1910 – Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound, and on Middleton I (Alaska); non-breeding from SW British Columbia S to extreme NW Mexico (NW Baja California).
  • P. u. annectens Ridgway, 1900 – near Yakuatat Bay, in S Alaska; non-breeding from C coastal California (also, less commonly, from SW British Columbia) S to C interior & S California.
  • P. u. townsendi (Audubon, 1838) – from SE Alaska (including mainland N of R Stikine) S to Queen Charlotte Is (W British Columbia); non-breeding from SE Alaska and S coastal British Columbia S in W USA to coastal N & C California.
  • P. u. fuliginosa Ridgway, 1899 – from coast of SE Alaska and coastal British Columbia (except Queen Charlotte Is) S to extreme NW USA (NW Washington); non-breeding from SW British Columbia S on coast to C California.
  • P. u. chilcatensis Webster, 1983 – from Chilkat R area of Alaska SE to Stewart area of British Columbia; non-breeding from coastal Oregon S to N California.
  • Descriptive notes

    15·5–18·5 cm; 25·3–42·1 g. Large, very dark brown sparrow. Nominate race has most of head uniformly dark grey-brown, a few beige flecks sometimes evident in sub­mous­... read more


    Song a loud series of rather staccato notes, rising and falling on different pitches, “she she shut... read more


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

    Food and feeding

    Little information available. During breeding season probably eats wide variety of arthropods, as well as small molluscs (Bivalvia and... read more


    Season early Apr to Aug. Apparently monogamous, though courtship poorly known. Nest made from dry grass, twigs, moss or bark, lining of... read more


    A “leap-frog migrant”, populations breeding farther N wintering farther S than more S... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Locally common. This species’ preferred habitats seem to have been little affected by recent human activities. No clear evidence of any changes in... read more

    Recommended citation

    Rising, J. (2020). Sooty Fox-sparrow (Passerella unalaschcensis). 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 21 February 2020).