Week of January28, 2000
Contributed by OLIVER L. AUSTIN, JR.
Horn - Birdzilla
Senior Staff Photographer
Text: From - Life Histories of North American Cardinals, Sparrows and their Allies by Arthur Cleveland Bent
In his classic "Revision of the avian genus Passerella," Harry S. Swarth (1920) brought the first semblance of unity and order to the bewildering array of forms making up the fox sparrow complex. Later, as more breeding ground material became available, subsequent students of the group have been able to redefine some of the ranges more exactly and to describe a few new forms, so that the current A.O.U. Check-List (1957) recognizes 18 subspecies as against Swartli's 16. Otherwise our concepts of the group's distribution, variation, and taxonomy remain essentially unchanged, and the recognized races fall conveniently into the three maj or divisions he delineated as follows:
1. The eastern and northern forms. Breeding across the continent from Newfoundland and Labrador westward to interior Alaska and British Columbia, these birds have the back reddish to gray, the tail and spots foxy red, the tail shorter than the wing, and a bill of medium size. They include the races iiaca, 2aboria, and altivagans.
2. The northwestern coastal races. Breeding along the Pacific Coast from the eastern Aleutians southeastward to northwestern Washington, these birds have dull sooty-brown backs and spots becoming darker from north to south, the tail shorter than the wing, and medium-sized bills diminishing in size from north to south. They inc]ude the races unalasehcenris, insularis, sinuosa, annectems, townsendi, and Juliginosa.
3. The southwestern group. Breeding from the mountains of southern British Columbia and Alberta southward to central Utah, Nevada, and south central California, in these birds the grays predominate, especially toward the south, the tail is equal to or usually longer than the wing, and the large, swollen bill increases in size to the westward and southward. Included are the races scltistacea, olivacea, swarthi, can~escens, fulva, megarhyncha, brevicauda, monoen,s is, and stephemsi.
Many of these races are rather weakly differentiated. Allan R. Phillips et al. (1964), for instance, consider canescens and swarthi indistinguishable from schistacea, and call the California races "generously oversplit." However Swarth (1920) claims: "I believe it to be possible, at the present state of our knowledge, to arrive at a solution of the fox sparrow problem that will enable anyone to identify accurately perhaps ninety per cent of the specimens taken," but he warns in the same breath "it is to be doubted if diagnoses can be prepared enabling anyone positively to identify all specimens of Passerella secured. * * * Intergrades between two forms may resemble a third and, taken in their winter home, may have their characters wrongly interpreted. Also immatures of one form may bear some resemblance to adults of another * * ~. Intergradation of characters apparently occurs wherever two races come together. Thus * * * there are intergrades to be found between any two contiguous forms."
The morphological variation in the species, though extensive, is almost entirely geographical in nature. As Swarth (1920) points out:
In this species variation due to age, sex and season of the year is extremely slight. The juvenal plumage is essentially the same as in the following stages, with regard to color and markings, the distinguishing features of the first mentioned being mainly due to the different texture of the feathers. Where color differences are concerned as of subspecific value, the young birds show these differences just as do the adults. As regards the later stages, I am unable to distinguish any differences between immatures in first winter plumage and adults a year or more old. As to sexual differences, males average slightly larger than females, but in color and markings there is no discernible variation. Seasonal differences are shown solely as the result of wear and fading of the feathers. There is but one annual molt, after the juvenal stage is passed, occurring in the late summer and including the entire feather covering, with no assumption of a special breeding dress such as is seen in so many species of birds. Consequently, a study of variation in this group is narrowed down quite closely to a consideration of but one category of differences, namely, geographic variation.
Swarth's analysis of the species' external morphology encouraged Jean M. Linsdale to examine its internal structure. During the next decade he completed an exhaustive study of the species' osteology, based on a comparison of 465 skeletons representing 14 of the 16 subspecies Swarth recognized. From this Linsdale (1928) claims: "Significant geographic variation was found in every part of the skeleton that was examined. The various geographic populations do not vary uniformly with respect to all features of internal structure. Some characters, however, are evidently closely correlated geographically with other characters of internal structure." His most striking osteological finding was that: "In every case the samples with large bones in the wings and pectoral girdle belong to races which have long migration routes and the samples with those bones weakly developed belong to relatively sedentary races."
As a part of this study Linsdale also analyzed many aspects of the ]ife history of the various forms, based on the published literature, available museum material, and his own experiences with the bird afield. From this analysis he concludes: "A consideration of the available material bearing on the natural history of the fox sparrow shows several well marked tendencies to vary geographically in habits and in responses to the environment. These tendencies to vary follow a definite order and parallels may be pointed out between them and tendencies to vary in features of structure." Nevertheless the only variations in "life history" features he enumerates are the following:
Under the head of summer habitat it seems reasonable to expect some expression of differential choice which may be correlated with change in geography. It is evident that not only is there a differential habitat choice through the range of the species but that, in general, the areas of uniform habitat correspond to the ranges of various subspecies. For example, in the schistacea group of subspecies the three smallest forms, in the Great Basin mountain ranges, are rather closely limited in summer to the narrow fringes of willow, aspen, and birch which grow along the streams on dry mountain sides. Farther west, in the California mountains, the birds are found scattered through the dense growths of chaparral on the high slopes. In the north where the climate is more moist the birds are found in various types of brushy vegetation in different localities, but everywhere the habitat is different from those of the southern races.
The songs of fox sparrows, considered from a geographic point of view, show tendencies to vary that may be correlated with differential choice of habitat and with structural differentiation. The species, as a whole, is especially noted for its highly developed vocal powers. There is, however, an easily distinguished gradation of volume and quality among the races of at least the schisiacea group. The song of the smaller races in the Great Basin resemble that of some song sparrows more than that of some of the closely related fox sparrows in the territory to the west.
The rather bulky nests of this bird are usually so well hidden as to be found with difficulty. They are placed in numerous types of situations although usually near the ground. There appears, from incomplete information, to be a tendency for birds in the northern parts of the range to place their nests higher than do those to the southward. This might he partly due to necessity since in the south most of the available nest sites are within a few inches of the ground. A great variety of material is used in the construction of the nests.
There is a considerable amount of individual variation in respect to color in the eggs of this species. The eggs are, in every way, strikingly similar to those of the song sparrow. Records are sufficiently numerous to show that in the northern part of the species' range four is the usual number of eggs and five are not uncommonly found. In the southern portion of the range three is the number most frequently found, and two are often recorded. There is considerable evidence that at least some of the northern races regularly rear two broods in a season while those farther south rear but one.
All other features of the species' habits Linsdale was able to compare showed little or no observed variat.ion between the different populations. He was hampered by the fact that, as he expressed it, "* * * many phases of its life-history are too little known. EspeciaJly desirable is more recorded information concerning the behavior of the birds through the breeding season." And he pleads "It is hoped that this summary of the available literature may serve as a basis for a more thorough investigation of the natural history of Pa.sserella iiaca."
Despite Linsdale's plea, we know little more about the species' biology and ethology today than v~ e did 30 years ago. In defense of this continued ignorance, it must be admitted that the species innate shyness, a dominant trait in all its populations. makes it a most difficult subject to work with in the field. It is doubtless mainly for this reason tliat no intensive, detailed life history or behavioral study of any of the fox sparrows has ever been made. As the following accounts bear witness, nowhere in the literature is the courtship described, or the species' territoriality, or the sexes' sharing of the various natal chores, to name only a few features badly in need of further investigation.
PASSERELLA ILIACA ILIACA (Merrem)
Contributed by LEWIS McIVER TERRILL
The fox sparrow was first described by the German zoologist, Blasius Merrem, under the name F~,ngi1a iiaca in 1786. In 1837 William Swainson erected for it the genus Passerella (Italian dimmutive of Passer, sparrow), to which it is still assigned. The genus contains only this single species, which is endemic to North America and occurs at one season or another from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the southern border of the United States northward to the limit of tree growth. Over this extensive range the current A.O.U. Check-List (1957) recognizes a total of 18 subspecies, and the fox sparrow's marked geographical variation is thus exceeded by only two other North American bird species, the horned lark and the song Sparrow.
Merrem's type specimen from "North America" no longer exists, but Oberholser (1946) restricted the type locality to the Province of Quebec, in the heart of the breeding range of the eastern race. Merrem seemingly derived the name iiaca from an earlier (1766) Linnaean name for the redwing, in reference to the fox sparrow's superficial resemblance to a thrush. Various other specific names that have been given the bird, such as the Latin Jemi~ginea and rufa and the English ferruginous, fox-colored, and fox, all emphasize a single feature, the rufous or reddish-brown color of the red fox in summer pelage that characterizes the eastern fox sparrow.
Spring: The eastern fox sparrows leave their winter haunts in the southeastern states m late February or early March. Although numbers follow the Mississippi Valley and some move northward through the mideastern states, their best defined migratory route appears to lie along the Atlantic Coast. From birds banded in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania from 1924 through 1956 the banding office at Patuxent, Maryland, has had 53 recoveries, 13 of them in North Carolina, and 13 in Newfoundland and adjacent St. Pierre et Miquelon (Robbins, MS.) Thus about half the total recoveries were divided almost equally between Newfoundland and nearby islands, known to support an exceptionally large summer population of fox sparrows, and North Carolina wbere banding returns indicate large concentrations winter.
In the southern part, the winter range migration is leisurely with frequent halts. From February to the end of April the birds move gradually toward their summer haunts, feeding among the ground litter as they go. Shy by nature, in their usual breeding and wintering grounds they prefer thick cover where danger of discovery is least and they can quickly fade from view if disturbed. During migration, however, they often scratch for food among the dead leaves littering the ground in rather open hardwoods where there is little or no ground cover. Here they habitually seek safety by flying up to a high perch where they may remain immobile until the intruder has passed. You may have excellent if brief views of them in their tree perches, but once on the wing again they quickly disappear in steady flight.
John T. Nichols (1925) mentions the tendency of wintering fox sparrows to remain aloof in family parties or neighborly groups and notes: "The habits of the fox sparrow are such that there is little chance of confusing early migrants with wintering birds, the latter stick so closely to their particular bit of cover." Charles L. Whittle (1926) observes that in New Hampshire the birds "arrive in spring migration in little groups, usually of eight to twelve birds, which apparently remain together until migration is resumed."
In western Pennsylvania, however, W. E. C. Todd (1940) states:
Single birds are the rule in our region and seldom are more than a few seen together. * * *
This hardy sparrow is one of the earlier spring migrants. Usually it appears in March, before all the snow is gone, and terminates its stay before the end of April * * *. [It] is a bird of the thicket and underbrush rather than of the deep forest; it is fond of briery areas on the outskirts of woods, and of dense willow and weedy growths along streams. The latter habitat is strikingly reminescent of its usual haunts in the north country. Actually the bird is a sort of sublimated Song Sparrow; it is often found associated with that species and with the Towhee, the Junco, and the Tree Sparrow: birds of kindred tastes.
Many writers stress the migrating fox sparrows' fondness for swampy tangles or weedy stream borders. Witmer Stone (1908) states it frequents the edges of swampy thickets in New Jersey, where it is a common migrant with extreme dates of March 1 to April 10, "Though common every year during their passage, they seem, some years, to reach us all together, as it. were, and for a short time the thickets simply swarm with them. I noticed such a flight in March, 1906, near Tuckerton."
Their preference for wet cover is, I think, more applicable to the southern part of their range. When the northbound fox sparrows reach Massachusetts, William Brewster (1906) notes that "Fox Sparrows, like Juncos, prefer upland to swampy places, although they are sometimes seen along the banks of brooks in thickets of alders and other bushes. Their favorite haunts in the Cambridge Region are dense second-growth woods, where the trees are largely pines, hemlocks, or other evergreens; rocky pastures plentifully sprinkled with Virginia junipers; and clusters or belts of bushes bordering roadsides and neglected weed-grown fields. They often appear in apple orchards and among ornamental evergreens in cultivated grounds. We see them very regularly in our garden, although they visit it less frequently and numerously now than they did twenty-five or thirty years ago, when it was by no means uncommon to hear half a dozen males singing at once in the Norway spruces close to the house. No one who has listened to such a chorus is likely ever to forget the sudden outburst of wild, exqulsitely modulated voices rising above the rushing sound of the boisterous March wind. Strange to say, the birds sing most freely and with the greatest spirit during stormy weather, especially when snow is falling."
They are not greatly inconvenienced by moderate snowfalls during the northward flight. In their search for food they make the snow fly as well as the leaves. Only when the snowfall is prolonged or when freezing rain forms a crust do they suffer. Then they are forced to leave the shelter of the thickets in search of food. Many such instances are on record when fox sparrows lose their customary timidity and are found about dooryards.
Francis B. White (1937) writes that at Concord, N.H., "You may expect to see these birds for nearly three weeks in the spring * * We make more intimate acquaintance with them in large numbers if they are caught in an April blizzard, when the deep snow in the forest forces them to feed in the beds of brooks, and drives some to visit barnyards and feeding stations, and to accustom themselves to human beings."
A study of Audubon Field Notes (1951: 1957) indicates that many of the big influxes of fox sparrows reported, especially in coastal states, were associated with severe snowstorms. The spring of 1956 was a notable example. Following a severe winter, the Middle Atlantic Coast Region experienced "a heavy snowfall just as spring arrived. * * * A deluge of Fox Sparrows hit the area about Philadelphia, March 22: 26. Unprecedented numbers reported from Maryland also; 25 were trapped at Wenonab, N.J. in one day, March 24." In the Northeastern Maritime Region: "From mid-March on, feeders were swamped with unprecedented numbers of Fox and Song Sparrows, etc., as these birds, having arrived in numbers, struggled to survive three feet of snow followed by freezing rain."
Harrison F. Lewis informs me by letter dated Apr. 9,1956, that similar conditions prevailed near his home at West Middle Sable on the Nova Scotian coast: "This spring we are having an extraordinary visitation of fox sparrows. They were first seen yesterday during a snowstorm. Today they were conspicuous visitors to our feeding station where we provided hayseed and rolled oats for them. I counted a maximum of 11 there at one time. Many more were scattered in thickets all along our road. And how they sang! Single songs at first, but eventually a full chorus of clear and joyous music.
Winsor M. Tyler (1922) mentions two similar concentrations in the Boston region: "No such flight of Fox Sparrows as occurred this year  has taken place since the remarkable flight in April, 1907. This year, as was the case fifteen years ago, a heavy snowfall came in April and prevented the birds from advancing northward. The Fox Sparrows were singing everywhere and collected in such numbers about our dooryards that they attracted the interest and admiration of many people who never saw, or heard, or heard of, aFox Sparrow." Later he (1924) considers that such storms do not delay migration materially: "The Fox Sparrow appears to be an exception to the rule that favorable weather hastens migration in a marked degree. My records of migration dates of this bird during the past fifteen years show a remarkably slight range, in spite of extremes of weather. The numbers of Fox Sparrows which visit us from year to year vary enormously, but their dates of arrival and departure [at Boston] come respectively very near March 15 and April 15."
As the fox sparrows approach their summer homes they move more rapidly. Ralph S. Palmer (1949) says that in Maine "the peak population may be present within a very few days after the first birds are reported. * * * At any one place numbers are generally present for only about two weeks." In Ontario James H. Fleming (1907) calls it a regular migrant at Toronto between Apr. 5 and 29, but of local occurrence and usually not common. In the opinion of J. Hughes-Samuel (J. Macoun, 1909): "This species passes through Toronto so rapidly in its spring migration that it is quite easy to overlook it entirely, hence the idea, I think, that it is scarce."
In New Brunswick William A. Squires (1952) states the fox sparrow is a common to uncommon transient, with extreme dates in spring from March 20 to May 8. Apart from an occasional wintering individual, it is also a transient in Nova Scotia. Harrison F. Lewis (MS.) suggests the probability that all the Newfoundland birds and possibly part of the Labrador population pass through Nova Scotia. He adds: "Nevertheless fox sparrows are usually uncommon in migration in southwestern Nova Scotia. I generally see a few each spring and fall, but in the spring of 1955 I did not see any. It appears that, though these birds must regularly cross Cabot Strait between Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland, they prefer not to cross the broader waters of the Gulf of Maine, but either cross the Bay of Fundy towards its head or travel via the Isthmus of Chignecto."
Two recoveries of banded fox sparrows support this thesis: One banded at Philadelphia Mar. 28, 1940 was recovered at Rochdale, Cape Breton, Apr. 30, 1940; the other, banded at Concord, New Hampshire Apr. 17, 1933, was recovered at Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, just across Cabot Strait, May 13, 1933.
Although this would appear to be the easiest and most favorable route for fox sparrows or other passerines bound "down the coast" for Newfoundland, the records of James Bouteiller (1905: 1909) from Sable Island, 100 miles off the Nova Scotian mainland, suggest that some of them cross broader stretches of water fairly regularly. He reports most fox sparrows on Sable Island, where the species does not breed, between April 14 and 17 and October 7 and 20, the chief migratory periods of the species in this latitude.
Fox sparrows migrate at night and usually arrive at their summer home in the dark of early morning. Roger T. Peterson (1955) records some arriving at Gander Airport, Newfoundland, Apr. 11, 1955: "A plane droned in the pre-dawn sky, * * * stray wisps of fog were beginning to blow in * * * . From overhead came the incisive lisps of unseen fox sparrows, the first migrants of the season."
Nesting habitat: The one outstanding requirement for the fox sparrow's breeding habitat is dense, bushy cover where the birds can nest and scratch for food while well screened from view. This appears indispensable throughout the species' wide range. Southwestern races find excellent cover among the thorny tangles of mountam misery (Ceanotlvus) so abundant on many California mountain slopes. Farther north and east the nesting cover is commonly coniferous, or again it may be wholly deciduous alders and willows.
Newfoundland probably has more suitable cover than any other part of iliaca's summer range. There Peters and Burleigh (1951) claim: "It is a bird of the thicket and the forest, and it does not come regularly into towns and settlements. It prefers a brushy wood edge, grown up field, cut-over woodland or scrubby woods." At St. Anthony D. B. 0. Savile (MS.) found it the dominant bird from May 25 to Sept. 3, 1951. He writes: "No area except open marsh or bog and a few bare hillsides is without this species. About town they invaded shrubby areas that would be utilized by song sparrows where that species occurs. As many as six territories were noted in 300 yards of road in mixed farm and waste land at the edge of town." William J. Brown (1912) also refers to fox sparrows nesting near dwellings: "A small area of evergreen fenced in is called a 'garden' by the Newfoundlander, and in such places fox and white-throated sparrows, ruby-crowned kinglets and several other species were nesting commonly."
On the south shore of the St. Lawrence fox sparrows are relatively scarce in the nesting season. A few have been found at Perc~ and nearby Bonaventure Island in Gasp~ County. Farther west in Matane County I have seen a few in June at Leggatt's Point, 6 miles west of Metis Beach during the years 1917: 1922, with a peak of five in full song on the evening of June 7, 1921. They were frequenting almost impenetrable stands of low, shrubby spruce bordering boglands. Several blackpoll warblers were singing in the same spot. When I revisited the same area June 18, 1957, neither species was noted. The low spruce growth had become a forest in which Swainson's thrushes, winter wrens, ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow-bellied flycatchers, Blackburnian and several other warblers were in full song.
Fox sparrows seem to have a penchant for islands, particularly those with steep, rocky shores where the growth is apt to be stunted and gnarled and more or less impenetrable. Here they find safer cover than on the adjacent mainland, because foxes and other predators, including man, are often absent. I believe the most southerly nesting haunts for this race along the lower St. Lawrence are a number of small islands in Rivi~re dii Loup and Kamouraska counties, including Basque Island off Trois Pistoles where I heard 12 singing and found 2 nests June 12, 1929, Garden (Pilgrim's) Island off St. Andr~, Brandy Pots, and Cacouna, on each of which my wife and I heard one or more singing.
On the Magdalen Islands Philip B. Philipp (1925) found the species common everywhere "in the bogs, in the stunted spruces along the beaches, and on the wooded hills." William Brewster (1883) also found it on the Magdalens and adds: "It was particularly abundant at Fox Bay, Anticosti, where its favorite haunts were impenetrable thickets of stunted firs and spruces near the coast. It also occurred plentifully in the heavier forests of the interior, especially about openings." When Frank W. Braund and E. Perry MeCullagh (1940) visited Fox Bay in 1937, upwards of 50 years after Brewster's visit, they saw only six fox sparrows in the same area during their two-week stay from June 16 to July 1. While the dwarfing of vegetation under subarctic conditions ensures a degree of permanence to fox sparrow habitats, ecological changes are probably partly responsible for local population fluctuations.
In Labrador Leslie M. Tuck (MS.) states the fox sparrow "seems to prefer scrub spruce and rather thin spruce-fir forests, but also occupies the pockets of black spruce on the barrens, or caribou range, the fringes of swamps, and even deciduous forests in the river valleys." T. H. Manning and A. H. Macpherson (1952) observed the species most often on the eastern coast of James Bay from June 28 to Aug. 28, 1950, where alder patches and open or stunted spruce were mixed together on dry, rocky ground. Farther north near Great Whale River on the east coast of Hudson Bay, Douglas B. Savile (1950) found the fox sparrow "abundant, especially in slightly wet areas with Labrador tea (Ledum) and other low shrubs and a few spruces."
Nesting: John J. Audubon (1834) was the first ornithologist to find the fox sparrow on its breeding ground. He describes its nest on the southern Labrador coast as built on the ground among the mosses and tall grass, and says that the eggs are laid from the middle of June to the fifth of July. "When one approaches the nest, the female affects lameness, and employs all the usual arts to decoy him from it."
While the nest is most commonly on the ground, it may also be built above it in a bush or tree, and it is always well screened from view. The male indicates its general location by his singing, and the loud alarm k~hek from one or both birds usually tells one the nest is close by. Ground nests in thickets may be in plain view when one reaches them, as behind the tangle of interlaced branches that thwart one's advance into the thicket, there is no need of elaborate concealment under a tuft of grasses in the manner of the song sparrow, and usually little or no grass grows beneath such dense cover. One such nest with two fresh eggs I found in Saguenay County July 1, 1925, in a slight ground cavity under a stunted white spruce tangle was composed of plant stems and moss and lined with withered grasses. It was much less bulky and contained none of the twigs that normally compose the walls of tree nests.
A nest I found near Betchouane on June 24 was built on a dead branch leaning against a spruce bush. Well hidden by overhanging foliage, it was 2 feet from the ground, compactly built with many twigs and chips of punky wood in the outer walls, and held three fresh eggs. Two rather peculiar nests I found on Basque Island June 12, 1929, were in elbows of deformed white spruce trees 5 feet from the ground. Both were slight affairs of twigs and dead grass wholly embedded in the mass of twigs and spruce needles that had accumulated in the hollows of the elbows, and were indistinguishable as nests except from above. One contained two fresh eggs, the other three partly incubated eggs.
P. B. Philipp (1925) describes two distinct types of nests on the Magdalens: "One, and that most commonly adopted, is on the ground, either in a wet bog or on a dry hillside, under a thick mossy spruce root or brush pile and usually in a very thick place. The other situation is in a spruce bush, usually at a low elevation, though I have seen nests fifteen feet from the ground. This latter type is, of course, the easiest to find. The year 1923 was particularly favorable for tracking down nesting pairs. It was a late, cold Spring, and even in the first week in June the snow lay deep in the bogs and woods, and this drove the birds off the ground and into the spruces * * "'.'~ He describes a typical nest, presumably a bush nest, as having an outer wall of spruce twigs and sphagnum moss with a considerable amount of dead wood chips and coarse grass, and plentifully lined with cow hair.
Most of the nests William J. Brown (1911: 1912) found in southwestern Newfoundland were in stunted spruces 2 to 8 feet from the ground. One, however, was at the exceptional height of 20 feet from the ground and held three large young on June 10. In 1911 he found a few nests on the ground, but in 1912: a late season when snow conditions made ground nesting impractical: all were in trees. Mosses and rootlets were the principal materials used, with the addition of spruce twigs in tree nests, and a lining of caribou hair. An unusual nest wedged, creeper-fashion, between the loose bark and trunk of a large pine, held the exceptional number of five young June 8, 1912.
Although the species prefers conifers for nesting sites, it sometimes uses deciduous trees. Harold S. Peters and Thomas D. Burleigh (1951) describe a nest at Tompkins, Newfoundland, May 16, 1947 "built in a crotch of a lower limb in a large yellow birch, and about seven feet above the ground. The deeply cupped nest was constructed of shreds of bark, grasses and weed stems, and lined with fine black rootlets."
L. M. Tuck (MS.) says that all the nests he found in Newfoundland were on the ground, and adds "perhaps it is easier to come across ground nests." This suggests that acceptable cover is sometimes less dense in Newfoundland than I found it in Saguenay County and Philip B. Philipp (1925) did in the Magdalens. Most nests L. M. Tuck found were under small spruces and composed of green mosses lined with dried grasses and sometimes a few feathers. The earliest he found at Cornerbrook May 18, 1951, with three eggs was under an alder hush not yet in leaf, and built of dry alder leaves lined with grass and two white feathers. The latest nest with three eggs on Gull Island July 1, 1950 was under a black currant bush and built entirely of grasses.
Eggs: The fox sparrow usually lays from 3 to 5 ovate and slightly glossy eggs. The ground color of freshly laid eggs is "pale Niagara green," but upon exposure this fades to a greenish white. They are boldly marked with spots, blotches, and cloudings of reddish browns such as "natal brown," "brownish olive," "Mars brown," "warm sepia," or "Brussels brown." The markings are generally heavier toward the large end, but there is considerable variation both in pattern and in intensity of coloring. They range from eggs with very small spots covering the entire surface to eggs showing considerable ground with large confluent blotches at the larger end. The measurements of 50 eggs of the nominate race average 22.7 by 16.3 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 25.5 by 17.4, 20.3 by 15.5, and 22.3 by 15.2 millimeters.
Young: The incubation period has never been measured accurately; Edward H. Forbush (1929) gives it as "probably 12 to 14 days," and Oliver L. Austin, Jr. (1932) suggests "about 13 days."
From his observations in the Magdalen Islands, P. B. Philipp (1925) says the female does most of the incubating and that the young are fed by both parents, who keep the nest "scrupulously clean." He adds: "~ * * by the time they leave the nest [they] are well feathered with the family russet-brown. * * * they stay around in a family party till they are quite well grown. I think many * * * raise two broods, as I have found nearly fresh eggs late in June, in situations where I am certain the first nesting was undisturbed."
In southwestern Newfoundland W. J. Brown (1911) found many young on the wing by the first of June, also several nests with young in various stages. The presence of several other nests toward the end of June with three to four eggs he thought suggested two broods.
Young seem to leave the nest somewhat later on the west coast of James Bay, where Thomas H. Manning and Andrew H. Macpherson (1952) saw the first juveniles on July 22. After that date about half the fox sparrows they recorded were young of the year. Between June 22 and July 3,1925, F. Napier Smith and I saw many young at several points between Baie Johan Beetz and Havre St. Pierre on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. All were out of the nest, some being fed by adults, others apparently no longer under parental care. The fact that many adult males were still in full song and that the only occupied nests we found contained fresh or nearly fresh eggs suggested that two broods are reared annually in this region. Nevertheless proof of fox sparrows rearing more than one brood annually is still lacking.
Plumages and molts: The natal down of the fox sparrow apparently has never been described. Richard It. Graber (1955) describes the juvenal plumage as:
"Forehead, crown and nape uniform chestnut. Back rusty buff, streaked with dark chestnut. Rump and upper tail coverts hazel. Tail rich chestnut. Renilges blackish, edged with chestnut (tertials and coverts broadly edged). Median and greater coverts lightly tipped with buff. Lores and eye-ring huffy white. Side of head concolor with crown, but with small whitish patch behind auriculars. Chin whitish, just behind mandible, otherwise dusky red-brown. Throat white, spotted and streaked with dusky-tinged chestnut. Chest, sides, and flanks (less so) heavily streaked with dusky-tinged chestnut. Belly white, only sparsely marked. Crissum huffy white, obscurely streaked with rusty. Leg feathers uniform chestnut."
According to Dwight (1900) the first winter plumage is "acquired by a partial postjuvenal moult which involves the body plumage and wing coverts but not the rest of the wings nor the tall." He states the first nuptial plumage is "acquired by wear which produces slight changes. A few new feathers are usually acquired about the chin in March, * * * Adult winter plumage acquired by a complete postnuptial moult. Practically indistinguishable from first winter dress. Adult nuptial plumage acquired by wear as in the young bird. * * * The sexes are alike and the moults correspond although the females may average duller in colors."
Food: Fox sparrows are essentially terrestrial feeders and scratch lustily for their food amongst fallen leaves. Using both feet in unison, they display such remarkable balance that Charles W. Townsend (1905) wonders "why they do not pitch forward on their heads when they spring back." Amelia S. Allen (1915) comments on species at her feeding tray in California: "The habit of scratching for its food seems to be so firmly fixed that it usually scratches among the crumbs before picking them up."
When not on the breeding grounds the fox sparrow is essentially a vegetarian. According to Sylvester D. Judd (1901) the stomachs from 127 birds taken principally in the eastern U.S. in every month except June, July, and August contained 86 percent vegetable and 14 percent animal matter. Judd adds "The vegetable food differs from that of most other sparrows in that it contains less grass seed (only 1 percent), less grain, and more fruit, ragweed, and Polygonum.
Half the food consists of ragweed and Polygonum." The birds do little if any damage to cultivated fruits, for most of the fruit seeds found, of blueberries, elderberries, blackberries, grapes, caine from birds collected in March, April, and May, and were obviously from withered fruits of the previous year the birds picked up from the ground.
Many observers list the seeds of smartweed and other Polygonums, ragweed and other noxious weeds as a particular source of winter food. Judd found that they habitally cracked open the larger seeds before swallowing the kernels, thus destroying any possibility of future germination. When scratching for fallen seeds in the spring the birds naturally turn up numerous ground beetles (Carabidae) and the small, many-legged millipeds of the Julus group. Judd lists these two invertebrates as the most important animal food eaten in April, when they total about 30 percent of the food of migrants. The stomachs of two birds taken at Ottawa Apr. 24, 1908 (C. W. G. Eifrig, 1910) contained a preponderance of insects, mostly beetles, also remains of spiders and millipeds and some seeds of gromwell (Lithospermum). October birds George E. Atkinson (1894) shot in witch hazel thickets at Toronto had eaten witch hazel buds, beetles, firefly (Lampyridae) and cranefly (Tipulidae) larvae, spiders, millipeds, and seeds of hound's tongue (Cynoglossum); many had also ingested particles of sand, gravel, and slate. W. B. Barrows (1912) records a fox sparrow in Wisconsin that had eaten 50 chinch bugs (Lygaeidae).
Very little information is available on the food of the eastern fox sparrows in their summer haunts, but it is thought to be mostly insects. Certainly the young are fed almost entirely on animal food. J. J. Audubon (1841) says that in Newfoundland and southern Labrador "I have frequently seen them searching along the shores for minute shelhish on which they feed abundantly." Ludlow Griscom (1926) observed a different type of beachcombing on the west coast of Newfoundland: "Along the Straits of Belle Isle family parties hunt along the beach, and occasionally nibble the dead and drying fish that strew the ground around the villages."
Voice: The music of the fox sparrow inspired William Brewster (1883) to write one of the first and best appreciations of it:
What the Mockingbird is to the South, the Meadow Lark to the plains of the West, the Rohin and Song Sparrow to Massachusetts, and the Whitethroated Sparrow to northern New England, the Fox Sparrow is to the bleak regions bordering the Gulf of St. Lawrence. At all hours of the day, in every kind of weather late into the brief summer, its voice rises among the evergreen woods filling the air with quivering, delicious melody, which at length dies softly, mingling with the soughing of the wind in the spruces, or drowned by the muffled roar of the surf beating against neighboring cliffs. To my ear the prominent characteristic of its voice is richness. It expresses careless joy and exultant masculine vigor, rather than delicate shades of sentiment, and on this account is perhaps of a lower order than the pure, passionless hymn of the Hermit Thrush; but it is such a fervent, sensuous, and withal perfectly-rounded carol that it affects the ear much as sweetmeats do the palate, and for the moment renders all other bird music dull and uninteresting by comparison.
Contemporaneously C. J. Maynard (1882) describes the song as he heard it on the Magdalen Islands as follows: "Its magnificent song filled the clear still air with melody. These fine strains consist at first of three clear rather rapid notes, given with increasing emphasis, then a short pause ensues, and the remainder of the lay is poured forth more deliberately, terminating with a well rounded note giving finish to a sweet song, which for sweetness and clearness of tone is seldom surpassed even by our best performers."
S. D. Judd (1901) characterizes its singing as "utterly unsparrowlike, a unique performance that seems not in the least akin to bird music, but more like the soft tinkling of silver bells." Perhaps it is its human quality that makes it so appealing, for as Robert T. Moore (1913) notes, the fox sparrow "does not sing a note which a human being cannot whistle." Moore made a special trip to the Magdalen Islands in June and July of 1911 to hear the species sing on its nesting grounds, and the following excerpts are from his musicianly account of his experiences there:
To me the Fox Sparrow stands out as the singer of joy. Many birds are of this kind, but few are to such a degree as this inhabitant of the stunted woodlands of the North. The musical construction indicates it, for instance the dancing rhythm, the major keys, and the speed with which it fairly shoots through the central phrase. But deeper than these are certain qualities in his physical being and character, which make for happiness: his robustness and virility, his excessive activity in all his waking hours.
The song-sites of the Fox Sparrow are conditioned hy his habitat. Wherever there are low evergreens massed in dense clumps * * * there he will be found. * * * out along their edges these sturdy finches are bound to be and will be heard at all times of the day, be it sunlit or foggy. Each individual has his own particular clump and one or more song-sites in that clump, so that it is possible to go out day after day and find the same songster and hear the same song. Sometimes his favorite tree is five feet high and sometimes twenty, ordinarily it is ten, and whatever its height, it is usually a spruce and is always on the edge of the clump * * *~ His favorite song-position on the tree is its tip. A point a foot below may he chosen, but never the lower branches and by no means the ground.
The last place is the region of his nest and from there no sounds are issued except call-notes. These consist of two kinds quite different from each other and neither musical. The most common is an explosive aspirate, which may be indicated by the syllable "chech" and is as loud as the call of the Hermit Thrush. The second is a fine, high-pitched note, which closely resembles the call of the Savannah Sparrow. The former is heard much more frequently and in conjunction with the latter is employed to protest against intrusion near the nest.
* * * unlike the Song Sparrow, [each] Fox seems to have but one [song] and is content to repeat it over and over, making slight additions at the height of the season or reducing it at the end note by note to its melodic skeleton. The song has certain fundamental characteristics which never change. First, the quality of tone is always round and full, like the sound of a clear flute-note. It is not rendered ambiguous by what Mr. Schuyler Matthews calls "blurred tones," on the other hand it is not cnriched by those overtones, which make the notes of the Wood Thrush so ethereal. It is decidedly human without touch of heavenly rapture, just a clear full tone, which is precisely the best medium for a message of joy and the most invigorating imaginable.
Townsend and Allen (1907) give the following version of the species' songs and calls in Labrador:
The song seemed richer and fuller than the best song given by this species during the spring migration in Massachusetts. Its clear flute-like notes are somewhat ventriloquial in character, and as the bird sings generally from a concealed perch inside of a spruce or fir tree a foot or two from the top, it is often difficult to find the performer. We have written down the song very inadequately in words thus: cher-ee, hear-her, hear-her, tellit. Or to-whip, io-whee, ok-whee buzz tellit, the last note short and faint and the main stress on the second and third bars.
The long drawn call note steep so commonly heard in Massachusetts during the migrations, was rarely heard in Labrador. A sharp chip chip was occasionally emitted, and the bird when disturbed sometimes gave the usual alarm note, a loud smack, richer than that of the Junco and more like that of the Brown Thrasher. One individual who was smackint' in a fir tree emitted faint sneezy notes with motions of swallowing between the smacks.
As with most birds, time of day has a bearing on the quality of the song. During spring migration the fox sparrow is always in better voice towards evening. I sometimes hear the low-voiced "whisper" song from the shelter of the thick brush at midday, and front the same quarter towards sundown almost the full-throated nuptial song. The undertones of the whisper song are easily recognizable, vastly different from the whisper songs of the catbird and song sparrow, and with a plaintive quality reminiscent of the songs of the white-crowned and vesper sparrows.
Occasionally there are short periods of song-revival in the autumn after the postnuptial molt. Aretas A. Saunders (1948b) writes of the fox sparrow in southern Connecticut: "I have records of fall singing in this species for ten years, but usually only on one or two days in each year; and of intervening years in which the bird was often common but no song was to be heard." His earliest record was October 30, the latest November 23, and the average about November 13.
The two types of call mentioned by Robert T. Moore (above) are quite distinct. The first, a loud "tehek," suggests a little the alarm notes of the junco, but more nearly perhaps the loud "tchack" of the brown thrasher. Commonly used to express distress or alarm, it is heard when the bird is disturbed near the nest. It may also be heard in migration when the birds are disturbed in dense cover, and may be repeated several times when the birds are cornered beneath a canopy of low branches with no chance of escape to a higher perch.
When migrants are disturbed on the ground, they usually seek a higher perch 25 to 50 feet from the ground. There they utter the other call, a fine, high-pitched "tseep," a very feeble note indeed for such a robust and dignified-looking sparrow, which apparently acts as a rallying or location note.
A modified form of the alarm "tchek" serves as a communal call when migrating fox sparrows are going to roost, which they usually do in young, shrubby evergreens or sometimes in a deciduous hedge. At dusk on Nov. 2,1947, we watched a small group fly into a shrubby pine on the edge of a wood. As the birds mounted slowly from branch to branch in the manner of white-thoats going to roost, one after another uttered a single modified "tchek," recalling again certain notes of the junco and the hermit thrush. Usually fox sparrows roost at night only a few feet above the ground in heavy cover.
Behavior: Although the fox sparrow is generally regarded as a robust, vigorous bird that often sings best in stormy weather, most writers stress its inherent shyness. In southwestern Pennsylvania Thomas D. Burleigh (1923) considers it usually "wary and hard to approach and as it likes dense underbrush it would often be overlooked were it not for the disturbance it makes as it scratches vigorously in the dead leaves."
Fox sparrows get along amicably with one another as a rule, but occasionally become quarrelsome. Francis B. White (1937) writes of fox sparrows caught in an April blizzard in New Hampshire and feeding in the beds of brooks: "Though mingling amicably with other species then, they fight furiously among themselves, t.owering up several feet, emitting a peculiar note, shrill, prolonged: a kind of squeal. * * * On one occasion, two were watched facing each other on the snow and sifiging defiantly in alternating strains."
They are also inclined to be pugnacious when other species invade their territory. The first fox sparrow to come to our garden at Ulverton, Quebec, appeared late the afternoon of Apr. 26, 1956, and set up a temporary feeding territory in a leaf-covered wildflower patch adjoining a thick spruce hedge. At first it was rather diffident as it sortied from the shelter of the hedge to scratch among the dead leaves for millet seed fallen from a food tray, and doubtless some insect food. As it fed there intermittently the next few days, it lost much of its timidity. Whenever a newly-arrived white-throated sparrow tried to feed in the same area, the fox sparrow crouched low, slimmed its body, darted at the white-throat. with lowered head and opened bill and forced it to retreat. It sang the "whisper" song many times in sunshine and rain from concealed perches in the hedge.
The only instances of anting behavior by the fox sparrow I can find were reported by H. H. Ivor (1941, 1943), who watched them do so in his aviary.
Field marks: The fox sparrow is ruddier and considerably larger than any other sparrow in eastern North America, even the whitecrowned, from which its heavily streaked breast, foxy red upperparts and bright rufous red tail distinguish it at a glance. When, as so frequently happens, one obtains only a fleeting glimpse of the bird disappearing in the forest undergrowth, he cannot be sure whether he has seen a fox sparrow or a hermit thrush. The hermit's tail is a sunilar foxy red, but seen well the olive-brown back, thinner bill, and spotted rather than streaked breast are readily diagnostic.
Enemies: Thanks largely to the density of its nesting cover, the fox sparrow apparently does not suiT er greatly from predation during the breeding season. Weasels and other mustelids probably get a few eggs and nestlings. though there are no records of nesting failures in the eastern race, within whose breeding range the cowbird does not occur.
Perhaps the greatest single factor inimical to fox sparrows is inclement weather during migration or on the wintering grounds. Freezing rain that forms a crust on the snow is particularly disastrous. Arthur T. Wayne (1910) gives the following graphic description of such a disaster in South Carolina:
The great cold wave of February 13 and 14, 1899, destroyed millions of these birds. There was a tremendous migration of Fox Sparrows on Monday, the 13th, following the coast line of the mainland. They apparently came from the northeast, migrating in a southwesterly direction. Thousands tarried in my yard all day long and swarmed in the piazza, fowl-yard, and every place that would afford protection. They would scratch away the snow in order to find a bare place, singing: that is the stronger birds: the whole time, while their companions were freezing by the hundreds. When they were benumbed by the intense cold, Boat-tailed Grackles * * * and Red-winged Blackbirds * * * would peck them at the base of the skull, killing them and eating them. The stronger Fox Sparrows would also eat their dead companions. It was a most pathetic sight.
Sprunt and Chamberlain (1949) add: "There have been similar though smaller invasions of Charleston. A remarkable one occurred between January 13 and 18, 1912. Sprunt's notes for March, 1914, read: 'Hundreds forced into the city by this cold wave. Scores seen along the Battery all day of the 14th.' Astonished at the nuinbers of the birds, people attacked them with sticks and small boys had a field day. A smaller concentration was noted on January 25, 1922, during a sleet storm in Charleston."
William Brewster (1906) comments that in Cambridge, Mass., "They were exceptionally scarce for five or six years following the winter of 1894: 95 when they perished by thousands, from cold and starvation, in the South Atlantic States, but they have increased rapidly during the past three or four seasons and are now nearly back to their normal numbers."
Ira N. Gabrielson (1952) notes the loss of birds on the north shore of the St. Lawrence in Saguenay County, Quebec~ of which H. F. Lewis (MS.) also writes: "The spring of 1947 was notably backward, cold, and late. Great numbers of passerine migrants from the south. including many fox sparrows, perished on the north shore during April and May because they could not obtain sufficient food. I was not there during those months, but in June, after my arrival, the loss of small land birds was described to me by many residents, and the great reduction in the regional breeding population of such birds was impressive."
L. M. Tuck (MS.) describes losses during a heavy late fall of snow on the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland. "On April 14, 1955, fox sparrows were fairly numerous. The following day there was a heavy snowfall with strong easterly winds. We put out chicken feed near our camp and attracted hundreds. * * * We could not feed all of them, however, and a large number perished. Several days later we found similar evidence of high mortality between St. Brides and Cape St. Mary's, where we found 16 dead fox sparrows while walking at random some nine miles. It would seem that the snowstorm coincided with the peak arrival of the fox sparrows while they were still on the coast~ and consequently there was a rather heavy mortality."
External parasites recorded from fox sparrows in the eastern United States include four species of lice (Mallophaga), two of mites, and two of ticks (Peters, 1936).
Fall and Winter: The fox sparrows start to leave their northern breeding grounds in late August or early September, and most have left Canada by mid-November, though a few occasionally winter in sheltered places, particularly near the coast. The literature shows plainly that the Mississippi Valley and the Atlantic coastal states are the principal flyways in fall as they are in spring, and the birds are less plentiful in the more central states. As W. E. C. Todd (1940) notes: "It does not range southward along the Appalachian Highlands as do many Canadian zone species."
The autumn flocks frequent much the same habitats as in spring, except that they feed more often in open weedy places instead of within thick cover. In the vicinity of New York Eugene P. Bicknell (in Chapman, 1912) writes: "On its return in the autumn it again becomes a common denizen of hedgerows and thickets, and also invades the weedy grainfields, rarely, however, straying far from some thickety cover. Sometimes large numbers congregate among withered growths of tall weeds, whence they emerge with a loud whirring of wings as their retreat is invaded, and hie away in tawny clouds, flock after flock."
Norman A. Wood (1911) records an unusual feeding place on the Charity Islands in Saginaw Bay, Mich.: "This bird was first seen on September 25, and on this date numbers were seen about the pond, where they were feeding on the mud flats exposed by the low water. When alarmed, they flew into the thick willow and rose bushes at the edge of the pond. This was a favorite resort, and most of the birds seen at this time were near this habitat, although it was later seen nearly everywhere on the island, except on the open beaches. It was last seen on October 6, when a single bird was observed. The species appeared to migrate alone."
The eastern fox sparrow normally winters southward to central Georgia and northern Alabama and Mississippi, though unusually cold winters sporadically force it farther south. T. D. Burleigh (1942) relates how the species suddenly appeared in coastal Mississippi in unusual numbers during an unprecedented cold wave in January, 1940. The birds were first seen there January 4 and within a few days were actually plentiful. As no snow fell along the coast, the birds were able to obtain their normal food without trouble, and appeared to escape entirely the mortality experienced in more northerly sections where prolonged cold was followed by snow and freezing rain.
Range: Northeastcrn Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and northern Labrador south to southern Mississippi, Alabama, and central Florida.
Breeding range: The eastern fox sparrow breeds from northeastern Manitoba (York Factory), northern Ontario (Fort Severn), northern Quebec (Richmond Gulf), and northern Labrador (Nachyak) south to north-central Ontario (Favourable Lake, Moose Factory), southeastern Quebec (Basque Island; Magdalen Islands), northwestern New Brunswick (Summit Depot), and southern Newfoundland.
Winter range: Win tcrs from southern Wisconsin (Ilartland), southern Michigan (Ann Arbor; rarely Manistique in northern Michigan), southern Ontario (rarely; Reaboro, Ottawa), northern Vermont, Maine (York and Cumberland counties), and southern New Brunswick (Fredericton) south to southern Mississippi (Deer Island), Alabama (Montgomery County), and central Florida (Pensacola, Kissimmee); casually to Colorado (Denver) and southern Florida (Punta Rassa).
Casual records: Accidental in Bermuda, Greenland (Sukkertoppen), Iceland, Germany (Mellum Island), and Italy (Genoa).
Migration: The data deal with the species as a whole. Early date of spring arrival are: District of Columbia: average of 33 years, March 3. Maryland: Laurel, January 23 (median of 6 years, February 15); Baltimore County, January 26. Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, February 29; State College, March 1 (average, March 25). New Jersey: Cape May, March 5. New York: New York City, February 18; Chatauqua County, March 20. Connecticut: New Haven. February 25. Massachusetts: Martha's Vineyard, March 4. New Hampshire: New Hampton, March 11 (median of 21 years, March 30). Maine: Bangor, April 1. Quebec: Montreal area, March 24 (median of 37 years, April 14). New Brunswick: Fredericton, March 21; Kent Island, March 24. Newfoundland, March 10: April 8. Kentucky: Bowling Green, February 12. Illinois: Urbana, February 13 (median of 20 years, March 1); Chicago, March 11 (average of 16 years, March 24). Indiana: Wayne County, March 10 (median of 11 years, March 21). Ohio: central Ohio: March 1 (median of 40 years, March 13). Michigan: Detroit area, March 18 (mean of 10 years, March 22); Battle Creek, March 24 (median of 18 years, April 7). Ontario: London, March 24. Iowa: Scott County, March 12; Sioux City, March 22. Wisconsin: Racine, March 17. Minnesota: Minneapolis: St. Paul, March 12 (average of 10 years, March 25). Nebraska: Dunbar, March 4. South Dakota: Sioux Falls, April 11. North Dakota: Berlin and Harwood Township, March 25; Cass County, March 25 (average, April 2). Manitoba: Treesbank, April 9 (average of 21 years, April 19). Saskatchewan: Indian Head, March 29. Mackenzie: Fort Simpson, May 1. Colorado: Durango, April 24. Wyoming: Fort Bridger, April 14. Idaho: Moscow, March S (median of 11 years, March 31). Montana: Great Falls, March 7; Libby, March 16 (median of 10 years, April 1). Oregon: Mallaeur Refuge, April 1. Washington: Bellingham, March 1; Seabeck, March ~4. British Columbia: Sumas, April 22; Atlin, April 27. Yukon: Sheldon Lake, May 4. Alaska: Wrangell Island, April 22.
Late dates of spring departure are: Florida: Tallahassee, March 16; Pensacola, February 17. Alabama: Wheeler Refuge, April 7; Gadsden, April 6; Jackson, March 29. Georgia: Atlanta, April 2. South Carolina: Clemson, March29 (median of 6 years, March 12). North Carolina: Chapel Hill, April 7; Raleigh, April 6 (average of 9 years, March 15). Virginia: Shenandoah National Park, April 16. District of Columbia: May 11 (average of 27 years, April 6). Maryland: Montgomery County, May 8; Frederick County, May 6. Pennsylvania: Renovo, May 16; State College, April 25 (average, April 15). New Jersey: Troy Meadows, May 11. New York: Madison County, May 10; Long Island, May 9. Connecticut-Portland, April 26; Concord, May 4. Massachusetts: Martha's Vineyard (median of 3 years, April 4). New Hampshire : New Hampton, May 2 (median of 21 years, April 20); Concord, April 28. Maine: Bangor, May 2. Quebec: Montreal, May 19 (average of 37 years, April 29). New Brunswick: Scotch Lake, May 8. Louisiana: Baton Rouge, March 19. Mississippi: Rosedale, March 25; Gulfport, February 24. Arkansas: Fayetteville, April 9. Tennessee: Athens, April 18; Knox County, March 21 (median of 11 years, March 25). Kentucky: Bowling Green, April 15. Missouri-St. Louis, May 10 (median of 12 years, April 20). Illinois: Chicago, May 25 (average of 16 years, April 22); Urbana, April 29 (median of 20 years, April 15). Indiana: Wayne County, April22 (median of 11 years, March 16). Ohio: central Ohio, May 20 (median of 40 years, April 23). Michigan: Detroit area, May 15 (median of 10 years, May 10). Ontario: Toronto, May 10. Iowa-Sioux City, Apr11 24; Scott County, April 23. Wisconsin: Green Bay, May 22. Minnesota: Minneapolis-St. Paul, May 19 (average of 5 years, April 23). Texas: Austin, March 27; Sinton, February 16. Oklahoma: Payne County, April 4; Woods County, March 30. Kansas: northeastern Kansas, April 19. South Dakota: Sioux Falls, May 7. Nortb Dakota: Berlin and Harwood Township, May 2. Manitoba: Treesbank, April 27. Saskatchewan: Indian Head, April 4. Anzona: Kofa Mountain, May 15. Wyoming: Albany County, May 6. Idaho: Moscow, May 28. California: Mt. Hamilton, May 4; Nicasio, April 29. Nevada: Lahontan Valley, April 23. Oregon: Willamette Valley, April 30. Washington: Everson, April 27. British Columbia: Westport, May 7.
Early dates of fall arrival are: Washington: Point Chehalis, September 8; Glacier, September 11. Oregon: Willamette Valley, September 23. Nevada: Carson City, August 12. California: Berkeley, September 8; Death Valley, September 9; Palo Alto, September 16. Montana: Fort Custer, October 8. Wyoming: Lanaime, September 30. Arizona: Hoover Dam, August 29. New Mexico: Clayton, October 8. Saskatchewan : Davidson, September 15. Manitoba: Treesbank, September 12 (average of 11 years, September 23); Winnipeg, September 14. North Dakota: Bismarck, September 11; Berlin and Harwood Township, September 16. South Dakota: Sioux Falls, September 24; Milbank, October 1. Kansas: Kansas City, September 29. Oklahoma: Cleveland County and Norman, October 18. Texas: Dallas, October 6; Tyler, October 18. Minnesota : Hennepin County, September 14; Minneapolis-St. Paul, September 16 (average of 9 years, September 25). Wisconsin: Mishicot, September 18; Chippewa County, September 19. Iowa: Dubuque, September 18; Scott County, September 25. Ontario: North Bay, September 13. Michigan: Detroit area, September 19 (mean of 10 years, September 26). Ohio: Painesville, September 3; central Ohio, September 21 (median of 40 years, October 12). Indiana: Chesterton, September 26; Wayne County, October 10 (median of 12 years, October 22). Illinois: Chicago Region, September 9 (average of 16 years for Chicago, September 23). Missouri : St. Louis, September 26. Kentucky: Bowling Green, October 13. Tennessee: Nashville, October 14; Chattanooga, October 20. Arkansas: Fayetteville, October 18. Mississippi: Rosedale, October 11 (mean of 12 years, October 17). Louisiana: Baton Rouge, November 14. New Brunswick: St. John, September 20. Quebec: SaintBruno, September 20; Montreal, September 23 (average of 37 years, October 14). Maine: Lake Umbagog, September 30. New Hampshire: New Hampton, October 5 (median of 21 years, October 20); Concord, October 12. Vermont: Topsham, October 13. Massachusetts: Cambridge, October 1; Martha's Vineyard, October 4 (median of 7 years, October 6). Rhode Island: Newport, October 13. Connecticut-: New Haven, September 16; Terryville, October 2. New York: Essex County, September 10; Bronx County, September 30. New Jersey: Brielle, October 10. Pennsylvania: Unity, September 7; Carnegie, September 28. Maryland: Denton, October 7; Laurel, October 8 (median of 7 years, October 19). District of Columbia: October 3 (average of 23 years, October 28). Virginia: Shenandoah National Park, Octoberl 8. North Carolina: Raleigh, October 17 (average of 11 years, November 15); Asheville, October 26. South Carolina: Eastover, November 8. Georgia: Athens, October 22. Alabama: Huntsville, October 24; Gadsden, October 31. Florida: Amelia Island, November 13; Gainesville, November 30.
Late dates of fall departure are: Alaska: Nushagak, October 22. Yukon: Macnmillan Pass, September 7. British Columbia: Chilliwack, October 5; Sicamous, September 25. Washington: Ridgefield, October 11. Montana: Choteau, October 29. Idaho: Moscow, October 8 (median of 11 years, September 30) - Colorado: Clear Creek district, November 11. Mackenzie: Fort Simpson, September 17. Saskatchewan: Indian Head, October 15. Manitoba: Winnipeg, November 6; Treesbank, November 3 (average of 8 years, October 9). North Dakota: Cass County, October 28 (average, October 18); Berlin and Harwood Townships, October 18. Minnesota: Bloomington, November 25; Minneapolis-St. Paul, November20 (average of 10 years, November 9). Wisconsin: Dane County, November 24. Iowa: Scott County, November 25; Sioux City, November 5. Ontario: Ottawa, November 17. lvlichigan: Detroit area, December 21 (mean of 10 years, November 21); Battle Creek, November 12 (median of 13 years, October 26). Ohio: central Ohio, November 28 (median of 40 years, November 14). Indiana: Lafayette, November 27; Wayne County, November 21 (median of 9 years, November 15). Illinois: Chicago, November 20 (average of 16 years, November 5). Kentucky: Bowling Green, November 10. Tennessee: Nashville, November 26 (median of 11 years, October 27). Mississippi: Rosedale, November 17. Prince Edward Island: Murray Harbour, October 5. New Brunswick: Fredericton, November 25. Maine: York County, December 8; Brewer, December 5. Quebec: Quebec, November 4; Montreal, November 30 (average of 37 years, October 29). New Hampshire: New Hampton, December 12 (median of 21 years, November 14); Concord, December 2. Massachusetts: Springfield, December 13. Connecticut: Danbury, December 5; New Haven, November 30. New York: Madison County, December 3; Cayuga and Oneida Lake Basins, November 30 (average of 18 years, November 3). New Jersey: Cape May, December 2. Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and State College, November23 (average, November 20). Maryland: Baltimore County, December 16; Allegany County, December 8. District of Columbia: average of 15 years, November 21.
Egg dates: Newfoundland: 117 records, May 8 to July 12; 94 records May 18 to June 12. Ontario: 1 record, July 17. Quebec: 9 records, June 2 to June 4.
PASSERELLA ILIACA ZABORIA Oberholser
Contributed by OLIVER L. AUSTIN, JR.
This subspecies differs from the nominate eastern race, from which it was split less than 20 years ago, mainly in being somewhat grayer, particularly on the head, and in having the streakings of the underparts less rufous and more sooty. Gabrielson and Lincoln (1959) state "This race never appears to be abundant, although it is a widely distributed summer resident * * * from Kotzebue Sound and the Colville River south to the Alaska Range. In this great region it is found as a brush bird which is adept at getting away from an observer."
Lee R. Dice (1920) gives its habitat in Alaska as "chiefly in the white spruces, paper birches, and willows along the streams, though one was noted in song in black spruces several hundred yards from other types of forest." Edward W. Nelson (1887) found the species near St. Michael's "sharing with the Tree-sparrows the bushy shelter of the alder thickets on hillsides and sheltered ravines" and noted it could be found "wherever a fair-sized alder patch occurs." John Q. Hines (1963) also noted "Fox Sparrows were commonly associated with alders and willows within the spruce forest" on the Noatak River. Joseph Grinnell (1900) in the same area found them "quite common up to the 23rd of August, when they abruptly disappeared. Until the day of their departure, their clear ringing songs were to be heard almost every hour of the day." Alfred M. Bailey (1948) states that in the Kotzebue Sound area they "wander far out on the tundra."
In the Mackenzie region Edward A. Preble (1908) writes: "its sweet song may be heard from the alder and willow thickets from the time of the bird's coming, though often a late snowstorm whitens its haunts." Thomas H. Manning (1948) notes that in northern Manitoba fox sparrows "favored the same habitats as Harris' sparrows, but differed greatly in behaviour. The latter are bold and perky and delight in showing off, while the fox sparrow quietly glides from one hidden perch to another."
Herbert Brandt (1943) describes a nest found on the slopes of the Askinuk Range: "The structure was supported by a much-divided willow crotch about a foot above the ground, and entirely lacked the concealment of the nests of many of the other bush-loving species which so tantalizes the ornithologist. The nest was strong and somewhat bulky, and had for its foundation numerous small twigs, but its real structure was composed mainly of ripe grass with some reindeer moss; while the well-molded interior was lined with finer grass and a Little true moss." A nest J. W. Bee (1958) found near Umiat June 30, 1952, "the top of which was flush with the ground in a clearing among willows and alders, both bare of leaves, had four young approximately five days old." Preble (1908) found a nest on the Mackenzie June 23 that " * * * contained three eggs almost ready to hatch. It was built on dry ground on the border of a swamp and outwardly was composed of grass, moss, and strips of bark, and was lined with fine grass and dog's hair."
Gabrielson and Lincoln (1959) venture: "The period of incubation is the 12 to 14 days that is common among sparrows of this type, and the young usually remain in the nest a somewhat shorter period."
The same authors say: "The song: one of the most beautiful of sparrow songs: is a clear, loud, canary-like warble, which is difficult to describe but is easily remembered when once heard. As a songster it is conspicuous, usually choosing as a singing perch a twig that is well up in the bushes, the topmost part of a small tree, or on a conspicuous dead branch." Nelson (1887) states the males sing "pewe-e-dudy-jew" from the roof of the highest building. Dice (1920) transliterates the song as "a trilled Ee-chee weer-r-r-a-chr-r-r-ree. The call note is a sharp tehip." John Q. Hines (1963) comments: "Fledglings were observed in early July when males were still singing, although at a reduced level."
Gabrielson and Lincoln (1959) continue:
In their natural habitat, Fox Sparrows are seldom seen in long flights, usually ducking from one brush patch to another when disturbed and flying close to the ground vegetation. They fly with a nervous, jerky, ifiting [sic] of the tail although this is not as marked as it is among the Song Sparrows.
Since it is a bird of the thickets, it is not surprising to find that such animal food as it takes consists of millipeds, beetles, and other insects found in such habitat. Otherwise its food consists largely of weed seeds and fruits. Although little is known about its feeding habits in Alaska, it can be expected that the usual berries and seeds of plants found in and close to the alder and willow thickets will furnish a large part of the food.
Grinnell and Miller (1944) state that on its wintering ground in California this race inhabits "Chaparral and tangles of low vegetation along stream courses; not known to differ importantly from habitat of other winter-visitant Fox Sparrows in the State."
Range: Northwestern Alaksa, northern Yukon, Mackenzie and northern Manitoba south to southern Texas, the Gulf coast, and northern Georgia.
Breeding range: The Yukon fox sparrow breeds from northwestern and central northern Alaska (Utukok, Colville, and Porcupine rivers), northern Yukon (Old Crow, La Pierre House), northwestern and central eastern Mackenzie (Mackenzie Delta, Artillery Lake), and northern Manitoba (Churchill) south to northern British Columbia (Atlin, Tupper Creek), central Alberta (Red Deer), central Saskatchewan (Nipawin), and southern Manitoba (Duck Mountain).
Winter range: Winters chiefly east of the Great Plains from eastern Kansas (Manhattan; Douglas County) and southern Iowa (Polk County) south to southern Texas (Laredo, San Antonio, Cove), Louisiana (Natchitoches, New Orleans), Mississippi (Gulfport, Bioxi), Alabama (Woodville), and northern Georgia (Roswell, Athens); rarely east to Virginia (Mt. Vernon, Alexandria), and west to Washington (Renton, Whitman County), central and southern California (San Geronimo, Pasadena), southern Arizona (Huachuca Mountains), and Colorado (Denver).
Casual records: Casual on the Arctic coast of Alaska (Wainwright, Barrow area).
Egg dates: Alaska: 40 records, May 3 to July 11; 22 records, May27 to June 11. Mackenzie: 10 records, June 1 to June 22.
PASSERELLA ILIACA ALTIVAGANS Riley
Contributed by OLIVER L. AUSTIN, JR.
The Alberta fox sparrow is not quite so red as the Yukon fox sparrow, with which it intergrades where their ranges meet, and it has the back practically unstreaked.
According to Joseph H. Riley (1912) this bird is found in summer "around the small dense clumps of stunted spruces that grow in the protected hollows above timber line." Harry S. Swarth (1924) found it associating with golden-crowned sparrows in tangles of alder and veratrum a little above timber line on Nine-mile Mountain, British Columbia, where, though it was "constantly heard singing," it was "so shy generally as to avoid observation." He found young birds "in process of change from juvenal to first winter plumage" flying about in the Skeena River region from July 22 to August 13. Writing from the Alta Lake region of British Columbia, Kenneth Racey (1926) notes: "The wonderful song of these birds is extremely sweet and in the mornings we could hear it regularly from the clumps of stunted fir trees in every direction."
On its California wintering grounds Joseph Grinnell and Alden H. Miller (1944) call it "Fairly common" and describe its habitat as "Chaparral-covered slopes, typically those of interior, semiarid areas; in winter stays below levels of heavy snow, where ground foraging activity may be carried on in the leaf litter."
Range: Central British Columbia and southwestern Alberta to northwestern Baja California.
Breeding range: The Alberta fox sparrow breeds from interior central British Columbia (Thutade Lake) southeast to mountains of southeastern British Columbia (Mosher Creek, Mount Revelstoke) and Southwestern Alberta (head of Smoky River; Banif, intergrades with P. i. sckistacea).
Winter range: Winters chiefly in foothills of Cascade Mountains and Sierra Nevada in California (Paine Creek, El Portal), in coastal southern California (Yucaipa, Flinn Springs, San Clemente Island), and in northwestern Baja California (Santo Domingo, La Grulla); occasionally north to northwestern Oregon (Government Island) and east to southeastern Arizona (Huachuca Mountains).
Casual record: Casual in Manitoba (Deer Lodge).
Egg dates: British Columbia: 9 records, May 14 to June 26.
PASSERELLA ILIACA (Merrem)
The following subspecies are discussed in this section: Passerella iliaca unalaschcensis (Gmelin), P. i. insularis Ridgway, P. i. sinuosa Grinnell, P. i. annectens Ridgway, P. i. townsendi (Audubon), and P. i. fuliginosa Ridgway.
Contributed by OLIVER L. AUSTIN, JR.
The six northwestern coastal subspecies are readily told from the other fox sparrow races by their sooty coloration and uniformly brown backs and tails. Their bills decrease in size and their coloring darkens from northwest to southeast in an almost perfect dine. Adjoining races intergrade wherever their ranges meet, and the differences between some forms are so slight that the practicality of such fine splitting is sometimes questioned. For instance George Willett (1933) states his "personal feeling is that we are attempting to recognize too many races of Passerella and that the situation might be greatly clarified by uniting some of the most closely allied forms." lie suggests that uniting insularis and .sinuosa with unaIaschcensis "would greatly simplify the classification of the group."
In the same vein Gabrielson and Lincoln (1959) state: "It is not possible, however, to accurately identify Lthe Alaskan subspeciesl in the field except as Fox Sparrows. All are large sparrows with dark brown or grayish brown backs with very heavily streaked underparts. * * * none of them save the bird of the interior IP. i. zaboria] can be named subspeciflcally on the basis of field identilication. This one, however, is so distinctly colored that it can be identified in the field."
The same authors continue:
During the breeding season in southeastern Alaska, it is one of the rather difficult birds to see because, in the heavy brush, it is a master at hiding except when occupying the song perch which it quickly leaves when disturbed. Unless a bird desires to leave a patch of brush, it is almost impossible to drive it out, as it runs about on the ground or through the lower branches almost like a mouse. The same is largely true of the Fox Sparrows found at Yakutat Bay. Farther to the west, however, the birds are more easily observed, due partly to the fact that there is less brush in which they may hide. Fox Sparrows are exceedingly common on the islands in Prince William Sound and they are not too difficult to find in the more heavily wooded sections of the Kenai Peninsula which is a major part of their breeding range. On Kodiak and west of that island, they are relatively easy to observe. In fact, Gabrielson has never found Fox Sparrows as easily seen or collected as those on Kodiak and the smaller islands to the west.
T. H. Bean (1882) found unalaschcensis on Little Kornushi Island in company with snow buntings and pipits on top of a ridge 1,200 feet above sea level. Grinnell (1910) records sir&uosa as the most abundant and widely distributed land bird at Knight Island, Prince William Sound, found from the beach to the timberline, but mostly in deciduous thickets. R. Rausch (1958) says that on Middleton Island in the same area, Next to the Savannah Sparrow, the Fox Sparrow was the most numerous passeriform bird on the island. It was closely restricted to the zone of high shrubs and its borders. Although generally shy, the birds often could be called in. The males sang from the tops of the higher willows, or from the high stalks of Rubus spectabilis along the upper bluff. * * * Fox Sparrows were often observed * * * along the edge of the bluff where the vegetation was contiguous with the dense growth on the side of the bluff. Farther south, near the beginning of the sea cliff, Fox Sparrows were common in a relatively wide zone of vegetation. Foraging and singing were observed here, but there was no evidence of nesting.
George Willett (1914) noted that townsendi was partial to the smaller grass and brush-covered islands in the vicinity of Sitka. He (1915) characterizes it as the most abundant land bird on Forrester Island, found "in wooded localities everywhere. Seemingly at least two broods are raised in a season. The location of the nests noted varied greatly, some being ten or twelve feet up in trees, some in brush thickets and on fallen logs and others on the ground. A brood of young left a nest near camp May 24 and fresh eggs were found as late as June 22." Here Harold Heath (1915) states: "This species of sparrow was the most abundant land bird in the region, being fotind from one end of Forrester Island to the other as xvell as on Lawrie and South islands. It was especially numerous in the vicinity of the camp where it fed at the boxes several of the fishermen provided for their feathered friends. Nests were also plentiful, principally in the roots of stumps and in crevices of the rocky cliffs. Judging from three pairs close to the tent., two broods are raised each year."
A. M. Bailey (1927) encountered the first ones in Ilooniali Sound May 7 to 24, when from one to ten were seen daily. They were especially fond of the little mountain streams, where they fed in the dense tangle of undergrowth. They had become common at Juneau by May 26, and June 12 to 20, they were seen along the wooded mainland shores of Glacier Bay and on the beach of the outer Beardslee Island. * * * We found a nest on July 10 with four eggs apparently well incubated; another nest with four small young was seen July 19. They nest somewhat as do the Juncos, hiding their nest in the moss on some little slope, or under a log, or along a boulder; their nests are neatly made, and usually well concealed, the parent bird taking pains to slip away without attractng attention.
Grinnell (1909) describes a nest of towwsendi from Admiralty Island as "a bulky structure 120 mm. high by 160 mm. across, the walls being very thick. The inner cavity is 70 mm. across by 50 deep. The main part of the nest is a matted mass of dead twigs, leaves, moss, and weathered grasses, and the lining is of finely frayedout grasses mixed with duck feathers." He (1910) describes a nest of ainuosa found on Montague Island as "composed externally of a mixture of green moss, skeletonized leaves and coarse grasses, while in strong contrast there is internally a thick lining of fine, round grass stems."
Swarth (1912b) found fuliginosa on Vancouver Island on bushcovered slopes and in willow thickets along the creek bottoms, but not in the dense forests below. "They were very shy, and clung to the thickets of dense underbrush, so that is was difficult to get sight of one. Singing birds were usually perched on a projecting branch, about the center of an impenetrable thicket of salmonberry or alder into which they plunged at the first intimation of danger."
The migration of this group of birds has interesting aspects. As Swarth (1920) points out, they "* * * move directly southward along the Pacific coast, each fsubspeciesj into a more or less definitely circumscribed winter habitat. * * * The subspecies breeding at the northern extreme, unala.sckcensis, insidari8, and 8inuosa, move the farthest south in winter, passing completely over both summer and winter habitats of anneeten~s, toum.sendi, and fuliginosa, and reaching the extreme southern limits of California."
In his review of Swarth's 1920 opus, Percy A. Taverner (1921) comments:
Another important point brought out is that the birds breeding in the most humid climates are not the darkest or the largest of the species. Unalo.schceiwij, summering in the extremely moist Alaskan Peninsula, does not reach the extreme development of size or depth of color that is attained by fuliginosa, resident on the comparatively dry Vancouver Island region. This perplexing fact that would otherwise seriously shake one of our most cherished ecological principles * is explained by the fact that the northern race spends its winter in arid southern California, and probably experiences a much lower annual average moisture than does the darker and larger race. it is thus brought forcibly to our notice that, in studying the relationship between the bird and its environment, winter ranges and probably migrational routes should also be taken into consideration.
Grinnell and Miller (1944) describe the winter habitats of these subspecies in California as follows:
P. i. unelaschcen.sie: Chaparral, principally of "hard" or arid type. The ground litter beneath the screening cover of the chaparral plants is searched over and scratched through in foraging in a fashion typical of all winter visitant races of Fox Sparrows.
P. i. in.sularis: Chaparral areas, but apparently on the average of somewhat less arid type than these frequented by the races P. i. cliivagens and P. i. Unelaschcensia.
*Gloger's Rule, that dark pigments increase with environmental humidity.
P. i. sflsuosa: A wide variety of chaparral cover or underbrush of forest and woodland is occupied, but preference is shown for inland areas and hence the majority of the birds occupy semi-arid chaparral of lower mountain slopes.
P. i. meruloide8 [aanectensl: Chaparral and underbrush of forest and woodland, normally, in view of concentration of population near coast, of fairly moist character. Thimble-berry, poison oak, nine-bark, ceanothus and baceharis are frequent components of the plant cover. The forage beat is accordingly well shaded and the leaf litter in which the birds forage is wet and soft through much of the winter season when the birds are present.
P. i. toe,nsendi: Typically, heavy forest undergrowth and tall dense chaparral in burned-over forest areas. The ground where activity centers is usually heavily shaded, moist, and well covered with soft leaf litter. Illumination of twilight intensity prevails throughout most of the day in the winter season in the habitat of this Fox Sparrow.
P. i. fuliginose: Heavy coastal chaparral and forest undergrowth, typified by moist, weakly insulated thickets of thimble-berry, ceanothus, and salal. Through the damp, poorly-lighted alleyways beneath the bushes these birds move in search for food by the characteristic scratching method of this species. Concentration of birds in the bush tops at a source of disturbance suggests flocking, but merely because of close spacing of individuals; actually each Fox Sparrow moves independently along its forage beat on the ground and to some degree defends it against competing members of the species.
Shumagin Fox Sparrow (P. i. unalaschcensis)
Range: Eastern Aleutian Is1and~i and Alaska Peninsula to coastal California.
Breeding range: The Shumagin fox sparrow breeds on the eastern Aleutian Islands (west to tnalaska), the Shumagin and Semidi islands, and the Alaska Peninsula (east to the Katmai area).
Winter range: Winters from southwestern British Columbia (Departure Bay, Vancouver) south through western Washington and western Oregon to California (Helena, Paine Creek, Escondido; Santa Catalina and San Clemente islands); rarely to northwestern Baja California (La Grulla).
Casual records: Casual north to Pribiof Islands (St. Paul), Nunivak Island, and Point Barrow, Alaska. Accidental (apparently this race) in eastern Siberia (on Tshukotka, north of Anadyr).
Range: Kodiak Islands. Alaska, to coastal California.
Breeding range: The Kodiak fox sparrow breeds in the Kodiak Island group, southern Alaska.
Winter range: Winters chiefly in coastal districts of central and southern California (Lakeport, San Geronimo, Santa Monica Mountains, Catalina Island); less commonly from southwestern British Columbia (Vancouver) south to interior California (Alta, Volcan Mountains).
Casual records: Accidental in Japan (Honshu).
Range: Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound, Alaska, to northwestern Baja California.
Breeding range: The Valdez fox sparrow breeds in the Kenai Peninsula (Seldovia, Kenai Lake) and Prince William Sound districts (25 miles north of Valdez, Cordova) and on Middleton Island, southcentral Alaska.
Winter range: Winters from southwestern British Columbia (Departure Bay, Chilhiwack) south through western Washington, westem Oregon, and California (Cascade Range and Sierra Nevada westward; Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and Santa Catalina islands) to northwestern Baja California (10 miles south of' Alamo).
Casual records: Casual on the Pribiof Islands (St. Paul) and in Idaho (Moscow).
Range: Yakutat Bay, southern Alaska, to coastal California.
Breeding range: The Yakutat fox sparrow breeds in the vicinity of Yakutat Bay (north shore of Yakutat Bay, Cross Sound), southern Alaska.
Winter range: Winters chiefly in central coastal California; less commonly from southwestern British Columbia (Comox, Vancouver) to central interior and southern California (Pasadena, Upland).
Range: Southeastern Alaska (chiefly on islands) to central coastal California.
Breeding range: The Townsend's fox sparrow breeds in southeastern Alaska from Glacier Bay and Lynn Canal south through the Alexander Archipelago to the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia; also on the adjoining Alaskan mainland 'north of the Stikine River.
Winter range: Winters from southeastern Alaska (Craig, irregularly) and southorn coastal British Columbia (Comox, Victoria, Chilliwack) south through western Washington and western Oregon to coastal northern and central California (Willow Creek, Somersville, Santa Cruz).
Casual records: Casual in southeastern Arizona (Chiricahua Mountains).
Range: Southeastern Alaska (mainland) to central coastal California.
Breeding range: The sooty fox sparrow breeds from the mainland coast of southeastern Alaska (south from the mouth of the Stikine River) and the coastal districts of British Columbia, exclusive of the Queen Charlotte Islands, south to northwestern Washington (Destruction Island, Lopez Island).
Winter range: Winters from southeastern British Columbia (Comox, Vancouver) south in coastal areas to central coastal California (Palo Colorado Creek, Morro); casually to interior and southern California (Manzanita Lake, Los Angeles, San Antonio Canyon).
PASSERELLA ILIACA (Merrem)
The following subspecies are discussed in this section: Passerella iliaca schistacea Baird, P. i. olivacea Aldrich, P. i. swarthi Behle and Selander, P. i. canescens Swarth, P. i. fulva Swarth, P. i. megarhyncha Baird, P. i. brevicauda Mailliard, P. i. monoensis Grinnell and Storer, and P. i. stephensi Anthony.
Contributed by OLIVER L. AUSTIN, JR.
In tbese nine races the tail is at least (rarely) equal to and usually longer than the wing. Grays predominate in their coloration, increasingly so from north to sout.h, and the rather pale uniform gray head and back contrasts with the dull reddish-brown wings and tail. The spots and streaks of the underparts are dull. The bill is large and somewhat swollen, increasingly so from east to west in the California forms. As noted elsewhere, many of these subspecies are weakly diflerentiated from one another, and identitying specimens taken away from the breeding grounds is a task for the expert with good series of breeding material at hand for comparison.
In Oregon Charles E. Bendire (1889) found that .schistacea seems "to prefer the willows and rose thickets along the streams in the more open country, but is generally most abundant close to the foot-hills of the mountains." In Montana Aretas A. Saunders (1911) found the same race prefers "the thickest and most impenetrable" willow thickets in the valleys. In northern Nevada Walter P. Taylor (1912) reports them common in the Transition life zone, especially on "rocky slopes, covered with chinquapin and quaking aspen thickets, with a sparse intersprinlding of mountain mahogany and timber pine." He also found them with white-crowned sparrows and Macgillivray warbiers in the vegetation about springs in the mountain meadows.
Stanley G. Jewett et al. (1953) state that in Washington the race olivacea "occurs commonly in spring in the hawthorn copses of the Palouse country, as well as the wild rose and willow thickets of the Big Bend and lower east Cascades. As the summer advances most individuals evidently seek higher altitudes, and the species may be observed all the way to the scrubby conifers at timber line. Others, however, probably remain and breed in the lowlands, as summer records for several localities are at hand."
In Esmerelda County, Nevada, and Mono County, California, Jean M. Linsdale (1928) found calvescens: present in small numbers along the streams above the 8,000-foot contour line. They were always near water and were usually found at the edges of springy places where there were thickets of aspens and birches with dense ground covers of rose, gooseberry, or alder. The birds were found near snowdrifts where there was sufficient moisture and vegetation for their needs. Not a single individual was seen of heard on the nearby, dry, mountain sides which were covered with sage brushes and pifions. Tolmie warblers frequented the underbrush in the same places as the fox sparrows. The green-tailed towhee, often recorded as occurring in the same habitat as the fox sparrow, was numerous in this region in all the drier situations but only a few individuals were noted in surroundings favored by fox sparrows and those individuals were not limited in their ranges so closely to the stream sides as were the fox sparrows.
Grinnell and Miller (1944) describe the summer habitat of fulva as "large bushes and small conifers, and willow and aspen thickets, usually near water courses or meadows. Ceanothus patches in openings in the forest, streamside tangles, and artemisia brush near meadows or where mixed with other denser cover are typical situations occupied by this race. In each of these places, low, fairly dense, protective cover and leaf litter on the ground are afforded. Water or somewhat damp ground may also be a requirement."
They state the race megarhynchus inhabits:
In summer, most typically, tracts of Ceenothu.s cordulatus and manzanita, either in the form of large brush fields or in large clumps scattered in broken forest. To less extent other low cover providing similar dense protecting foliage; aspen thickets and streamside willow and alder tangles in the mountains may be inhabited. The brush in which these birds live, owing to temperature conditions in the zones occupied, provides at ground level, cool and somewhat moist places: refuges during the day from the high temperature and insolation of the bush tops. A requirement of all Fox Sparrows: leaf litter in which to forage: is amply supplied, although it is drier and harsher than in the breeding ranges of more northern forms. Nest locations are either above ground in the rugged, thorny bushes or sunk in the ground at their bases. In singing, as from bush tops or young conifers, the birds do not venture far from the shelter of the bushes and in moving about over the nesting domain covered alleyways are used perhaps more than flight lines over the brush.
Of the habitat brev'icaiida occupies in summer they say: "brushland consisting of C~eanothiis cordulatws, Prunn~s emarginata and manzanitas, often intermingled with young conifers, especially firs. The infrequent meadowland in the range of this race may be occupied also if alder thickets or growths of false hellebore provide protecting cover. The brushland may exist in large tracts or in clumps in the open Canadian-zone forest. Burned-over forest land in recovery stages with heavy growth of brush is particularly favorable terrain."
They say monoensis prefers "brush composed of manzanita and ceanothus, and, commonly, streamside thickets of willows and wild rose and low aspen scrub with associated forbs about springs and wet meadows. Thus habitats characteristic for both P. i. megarhynchws and P. i. canescens are occupied."
The same authors note that stephensi occupies "in summer, chinquapin and ceanothus brush; less commonly brakes, willow t.hickets, and gooseberry brushes about mountain streams and springs. Although the brushland provides the same essential protecting cover and the somewhat moist ground-forage beat as in the ranges of more northern races of Fox Sparrows breeding in California, it is on the average drier and warmer. Presumably the leaf litter is prevailingly harsher. Less often are moist seeps available, although they are sought out by the birds when present: Nest sites and song posts are available much as in the ranges of P. i. megarhynchus and P. i. breviea'uda."
Nesting: Bendire (1889) writes of schistacea:
The Slate-colored Sparrow, according to my observations, prefers t.o nest in willow thickets, next in dense wild rose bushes, and occasionally in a bunch of tall rye grass, but always close to water. The nests are generally placed some little distance from the ground, rarely at a greater height than three feet, and are invariably well hidden. But a single instance came under my observation where the nest was placed directly on the ground; in this case it was bidden by an overhanging bunch of some species of swamp grass.
The nests of this form are bulky, but exceedingly well constructed affairs. The material composing the outer body is used at least in a very damp, if not in a positively wet state. It is thoroughly welded together in this condition, forming when dry a compact, solid structure which will retain its shape perfectly. They are rather deep for the small size of the bird, and cup-shaped. The finer finishing touches are attended to by the female, which fits the material used as the inner lining of the nest carefully in its place. As a rule two or three days are consumed in the construction of a nest, but I have positive evidence, in one instance at least, that a pair of these birds built an entirely new nest, and did it well too, between sunrise and sunset of the same day, and an egg was deposited in it that evening.
A typical nest Bendire describes as "outwardly constructed of various coarse plant fibers, willow bark, and marsh grass, and lined with fine grass tops taken from a species of rye grass. The outside of the nest is four and a half inches across by four inches deep; the inner diameter is two and a half inches, the depth two inches. About one-third of the nests examined by me (some fifty in number), were lined inside with more or less horse-hair, and a couple, in addition, with feathers."
The nests of fulva he found in south-central Oregon Bendire (1889) states "are placed in various situations, Kalmia thickets, service-berry and willow bushes, as well as thick, scrubby evergreens, being preferred. They are always well hidden, and may be found from a few inches to six feet from the ground; none were found by me directly on the ground. Eggs may be looked for about June 12, and as late as July 15. The usual number laid is three or four, and but one brood, I think, is reared in a season." He describes a nest as "composed externally of coarse plant fibres * * * and a few horse-hairs. It is not as compactly built as nests of Toxvnsend's or Slate-colored Sparrows. Its exterior is five inches wide by two and one half inches deep; inner diameter, three inches; depth, one aiid a quarter inches. It was evidently deeper originally, and has been much compressed and flattened in packing."
Of 14 nests of megarhyncha John W. Maillard (1921) found near Lake Tahoe, California, 6 were on the ground. Three of those above ground were in Cearwihus bushes, either near the edge of a thicket or well within it. One nest was 2 feet up in a crotch formed by a 2inch branch and a willow. Another was 2 feet off the ground on a mass of dead branches and debris under a willow clump. One was on a dead aspen branch 3 feet above a small stream. He comments that all the nests followed a well-established form of construction, which he describes as follows:
In all instances the nest proper was composed of combinations of shreds of old bark, small dead twigs, old chips and small chunks of wood and dead leaves. All of this material, more or less decayed and very light in weight, was used in varying proportions in the different nests, sometimes one or two of these constituents being omitted. The wall of one nest contained several chips of wood, the largest of which was five and a half inches long by one and a quarter wide, and very thin, possibly a piece of berry basket. The lining of the nests was of finely shredded bark, dead rootlets, old dry grasses and sometimes horsehair.
Owing to the great shyness of this species but few opportunities for observing the actual nest building presented themselves. In one instance a bird was watched as it dragged a twig, at least eight inches in length, along the ground and up through and over the mass of dead branches and debris upon which, at a height of two feet from the ground, the nest was placed. Previously, the same bird had been seen carrying a small twig to its nest by direct flight. In another instance, where a nest was four feet and a half from the ground in a gooseberry tangle, the bird picked up twigs but a few yards from the nesting site and carried them to it by direct flight. These twigs varied greatly in length, the longest being estimated at ten inches, and several were dropped on the way. In a heroic effort to maintain a proper balance with a coveted twig while striving to reach its destination, the bird's body was almost perpendicular, its attitude and rapid wing movement reminding one of a hummingbird at a long-necked flower.
The continual song of the male, from his favorite perch near the nest site, and the fact that the sitting bird, while feeding nearby, is not replaced by its mate, leads to the belief that the female alone attends to the duties of nest construction and incubation. Sometimes, while near the nest, the male breaks into song, not only when standing on the ground but when he is scratching or hopping about in the brush as well.
In spite of the startling amount of general destruction of eggs, young and nests of birds, presumably by chipmunks, predatory birds, snakes, etc., prevalent in the Lake Tahoe region, no nests of this fox sparrow were molested before the eggs were hatched. This was probably due to the facts (established by careful observation) that incubation commences with the laying of the first egg, and that the sitting bird never goes far from the nest.
Wright M. Pierce (1921) says that eight nests of stephensi he found in the San Bernardino Mountains are all very similar * * "'. In size they average, outside depth, 4.5 inches; inside depth, 1.75; outside diameter, 6; inside, 3. Nests are composed of coarse sticks and pine needles, with some fine twigs and weed bark, lined with grass, weed bark, and, at times, mammal fur. The nests on the ground were usually less well made, with more pine needles and leaves, rather than coarse sticks.
* * The birds nest, so far as we have found, either on the ground or up in buckthorn bushes. I believe they build more often on the ground, where the nests are very hard to locate, especially, if they are placed under a thick mat of tangled buckthorn. At times they seem to choose the most open sort of location. They just seem to be where they are! My experience indicates that the birds are very close sitters, and three seems to be the usual clutch of eggs.
Bendire (1889) writes that in schistacea: "Incubation, as nearly as I was able to determine, lasts from twelve to fourteen days; both sexes assist." Apparently nobody has ever measured the incubation period in this species accurately, and considerable disagreement is manifest in the literature on the roles the two parents play in various aspects of the reproductive cycle. It seems unlikely that such basic and ingrained behavior traits should vary between populations of the same species. In the absence of a definitive study, it appears most probable that nest building and incubation are almost entirely if not entirely by the female alone, and that the male remains close by and helps his mate feed the young after they hatch.
Young: Linsdale (in Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale, 1930) made the following observations at a nest of megarhyncha which, when found on June 16, * * * contained two young thought to be about three days old, helpless and downy rather than feathery. The female showed much concern and came within two meters of the observers. The male was indifferent and sang as soon as the observers withdrew. On June 17 the happenings at this nest were watched for most of the day. The female did most of the feeding of young, making trips at intervals of from two to five minutes. Twice the male brought food for the young. When the nest was in the sunshine the panting female shaded it with spread wings. All the feces were eaten by the parent.
This female was watched caring for the young on June 21. It worked about the person seated close by, continually picking up small objects and uttering a faint .scet. The wing ends were drooped and the tail was raised free of the ground; often it was turned somewhat at an angle sideways from the axis of the body. The male hopped about farther away, at a three-meter radius, and uttered a much louder metallic klink: then broke into full song. All the food was gathered within a radius of three meters of the nest.
Another nest containing nearly grown young birds was watched on June 21, 1925. The female foraged within eight meters of the nest, but the male went farther, sometimes twice that distance, to get food. The male was seen to gather insects and carry them to the female which took them in her bill and then carried them to the young birds. Although some of the food was obtained from among the leaves on the ground, most of it was picked off the growing vegetation. Twice the female picked off bits of green leaves of miner's lettuce (Montia) and fed them to the young. The remainder of the food was made up of insects. It looked to the observer as though the birds saw the insects best when they were between 15 and 30 centimeters distant.
A fox sparrows nest that was found June 19, 1925, contained two half-fledged young which left when the nest was looked into. They were tolled out by the frantic actions and voicings of the two parents, which flopped along the ground under and through the bushes, giving their klinks in rapid succession. Other sympathetic fox sparrows came near.
How long after hatching the young remain in the nest is unknown, but as Grinnell (MS. in Linsdale, 1928) observes: "When young are nearly ready to leave the nest they will jump out and begin hopping away at even a slight disturbance. They go in different directions and are sometimes led away by the parents independently. After the birds have once jumped out of the nest they will not stay in it even if they are replaced."
How long the young remain with the parents after leaving the nest is likewise unknown. Wright M. Pierce (1921) tells how, while hunting for nests of ate phensi, "We had not gone far until we kicked out a rather young fox sparrow from the brush, and then another. The parents were near at hand and played the broken-wing trick to perfection in their attempts to coax tis away, all the while uttering their metallic 'chip."' Jewett et al. (1953) write that in Washington "In the higher mountains, companies of 2 to 4 fox sparrows, usually family groups of adults and immatures still together, were commonly seen at least until the latter part of August, and often fully fledged young birds were observed teasing for attention. At this time of year the full song was no longer heard, and the birds remain silent, or utter merely a chek or chirp call note."
Voice: The same authors comment of olivacea: "Few bird songs possess the attractive clear ringing quality of that of the fox sparrow. One noted June 5 at Cheney was 40 feet up in a dead alder singing with enthusiasm: too-wheet-whoo: t.sweek4suck-tseeka tsew! The wheet, teweet and tseelca notes were high and emphatic, while the others were pitched lower, the tsuck being an unstressed connective. An excellent rendition of the song by William L. Dawson (1909) is Goree, rickit, loopiteer! Few mountain birds, during July days, are better known for the beauty, strength, and vivacity of their song in the high mountains of the Mt. Baker country than the males of this species as they revel in the sunny landscape of the subalpine parks, and it is not unusual to find 4 males singing each within sound of one another~s voice, although widely distributed along the climbing moraines (Shaw)."
On the other hand Bendire (1889) was not so highly impressed by the singing of schistaeea: "While the female is covering her eggs, the male may frequently be heard giving vent to his nuptial song, in the early morning and just before sundown. His lay, however, is rather weak and of small compass, very much resembling that of Melospjiza Jasciata [melodic] montana. He delivers it while perched on some small twig, overlooking the thicket in which the nest is placed and generally close to it. Their usual call note is a repeated trip trip."
Aretas A. Saunders (1910) made the following surprising observations of a pair he watched in a willow thicket near Bozeman, Montana in mid-April: "At first I believed, from their actions, that the birds were mating, but later, when I notist that both birds sang alternately, I decided that they must be rival males. The songs were very similar in every way except that one was somewhat weaker than the other. I finally secured the bird with the weaker song and was much stirprised when, on later examination, it proved to be a female."
Enemies: A. M. Ingersoll (1913) gives the following dismal account of his experiences while collecting eggs near Cisco, Placer County, Calif., in June and July, 1912: "Sixteen nests of Thickbilled Fox Sparrow (Passerella i. megarhyncha). Two nests and sets of eggs were taken by myself. Two nests were emptied of eggs by children. One with two eggs was abandoned before incubation commenced. One with four eggs was destroyed by sheep feeding on foliage of bush. Five nests with dead riestlings were examined after the snow. Four nests were emptied by jays. One nest containing two pipped eggs was discovered through the actions of a jay that had its feast interrupted." He attributes the "principal havoc" to fox sparrow nesting success, and to that of many other passerines there, to the activities of Steller's jays and an unseasonable fall of heavy snow that fell June 23.
Herbert Friedmann (1963) sums up the available information on cowbird parasitism in the species as follows:
The fox sparrow is an infrequent victim of the brown-headed cowbird. Only in one place has anyone considered it a common host; Saunders (1911, P. 40) wrote that in Gallatin County, Montana, "Mr. Thomas found the eggs and young quite commonly in the nests of the Slate-colored Sparrow." Ridgway (1887, p. 601) recorded a parasitized nest at Parley's Park, Wasatch Mountains, Utah, on July 23, 1869. The late H. J. Bowles wrote me years ago that a friend of his collected several sets of fox sparrow eggs with cowbird eggs near Spokane, Washington. Bendire (1889, p.113) noted a cowbird's egg in a fox sparrow's nest at Palouse Falls, southeastern Washington, on June 18, 1878. Street (Houston and Street, 1959, p. 176) found another parasitized nest at Nipawin, Saskatchewan. H.B. Hurley (in litt.) found a nest with 2 eggs of the sparrow and 1 of the cowbird, five miles southeast of Sesters, Deschutes County, Oregon, on May 16, 1960. In the collections of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History there is a parasitized set of eggs collected on June 9, 1922, at Mammoth Lakes, Mono County, California.
These few records are all that I have noted. They refer to the northwestern race of the cowbird, M. a. arfereisiae, and to the following races of the fox sparrow: zaboria in Saskatchewan; olieacee in Washington; schisto.cea in Gallatin County, Montana; swerfhi in the Wasatch Mountains, Utah; fufva in Oregon; and monoensis in Mono County, Califorula.
Winter: Grinnell and Miller (1944) describe the California winter habitats of these races as follows:
schisfacea (and olivacea): "inland chaparral, prevailingly of somewhat arid character, as with other races that winter in the interior." Julva: "chaparral, as with other winter visitant races."
megarhyne ha: "chaparral of semi-arid type is occupied."
brevicauda: "fairly dry chaparral, especially on ridges and on canyon slopes near the coast."
Slate-colored Fox Sparrow (P. i. schistacea)
Range: Southeastern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta south to northern Baja California, southern Arizona, and western Texas.
Breeding range: The slate-colored fox sparrow breeds from southeastern British Columbia (Crowsnest Pass) and southwestern Alberta (Waterton Lakes Park) south through the mountains of northern Idaho (Glidden Lakes), north-central and eastern Oregon (Cascade Mountains south to Warm Springs; Howard; Wallowa Mountains), and western Montana (Judith River, Red Lodge), to north-central and northeastern Nevada (Pine Forest Mountains; 10 miles northeast of San Jacinto), southwestern Wyoming (Fort Bridger), and central Colorado (Cochetopa Creek).
Winter range: Winters from northern interior California (Paine Creek), central Arizona (Hualpai Mountains, Natanes Plateau), and northern New Mexico (Manzano Mountains, Las Vegas) south through southern California (rarely to coastal districts; Alameda, San Nicolas Island) to northern Baja California (Concepci6n; 20 miles southwest of Pilot Knob), southern Arizona (Ajo, Chiricalina Mountains), and western Texas (El Paso).
Casual Records: Casual in migration to western Nebraska.
Egg dates: Oregon, 7 records, June 10 to July 5.
Range: Mountains from southern British Columbia to northern Baja California.
Breeding range: The Washington fox sparrow breeds in the mountains from southwestern and south-central British Columbia (Mount McLean, Nelson) south through central and eastern Washington (10 miles north of Grand Dalles; Blue Mountains).
Winter range: Winters in interior California (Tehama County; Piute Mountains) and northern Baja California (Sierra JuArez).
Egg dates: Washington 9 records, May 1 to June 13.
Breeding range: The Utah fox sparrow breeds in mountains of southeastern Idaho (Bannock and Bear Lake counties) and of northwestern and north-central Utah (Raft River Mountains; Deep Creek Mountains; Wasatch Mountains south to Sanpete County).
Winter range: Unknown.
Range: Central Nevada to northern Baja California and southern Arizona.
Breeding range: The Inyo fox sparrow breeds in central Nevada (Shoshone, Toiyabe, and vlonitor mountains) and extreme central eastern California (White Mountains).
Winter range: Winters in southern California (Santa Barbara, San Antonio Canyon, Blythe), northern Baja California (Laguna Hanson; 10 miles southeast of Alamo), and southern Arizona (Big Sandy Creek, Oracle).
Range: Central Oregon to northern Baja California. Breeding range: The Warner Mountains fox sparrow breeds from central and southern Oregon on the east side of the Cascade Range (Sisters, Keno, Steens Mountains) south to the Modoc Plateau of of California (Butte Lake, Warner Mountains).
Winter range: Winters in southwestern California (Santa Barbara, Cucamonga Canyon, Volcan Mountains) and northern Baja California (Laguna Hanson).
Casual records: Casual in migration to northeastern Nevada (Secret Pass).
Range: Southwestern Oregon to northwestern Baja California. Breeding range: The thick-billed fox sparrow breeds in the mountains from southwestern Oregon (Onion Mountain, Robinson's Butte) south through central northern California (Siskiyou Mountains at Del Norte County line; Mount Orr; head of Dog Creek) and the Sierra Nevada of California (exclusive of the Mono Lake district) to lat. 370 N. (Kearsarge Pass); locally to west-central Nevada in the Tahoe district.
Winter range: Winters in lowlands of central and southern California (Tower House, Inskip Hill, Nicasio, Santa Cruz and Santa Catalina islands, Witch Creek) and northwestern Baja California (La Grulla).
Egg dates: (The data refer to all California forms.) California: 189 records, May 21 to July 8; 93 records, June 1 to June 15.
Range: Coast ranges, central and coastal Califorma.
Breeding range: The Trinity fox sparrow breeds in the northern and inner coast ranges of California south of the Trinity River (Horse Mountain and Hayfork Baldy south to Mount Sanhedrin and Snow Mountain).
Winter range: Winters in central and southern coastal California (Howell Mountain, Nicasio, Santa Monica Mountains, Santa Catalina Island).
Range: Mono district of California and Mineral County, Nevada to northwestern Baja California.
Breeding range: The Mono fox sparrow breeds in the Mono district on the east flank of the central Sierra Nevada in California (Woodfords, Mammoth, Benton); locally in adjoining Mineral County, Nevada (Walker River Range).
Winter range: Winters in central interior and southern coastal California (Coulterville; Mount Wilson; Santa Catalina and San Clemente Islands) and northwestern Baja California (20 miles east of Ensenada; La Grulla).
Range: Southern California.
Breeding range: The Stephens' fox sparrow breeds in the southern Sierra Nevada of California (from Kings River southward) and in the high mountains of southern California (Mount Pinos, San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and San Jacinto mountains).
Winter range: Winters at lower elevations in southern California (Santa Barbara, ilollywood, Claremont).