In “On the Move,” our regular column about migration, we present pairs of distribution maps from eBird that you can use to compare where interesting birds are at different times of the year. We featured Fox Sparrow, pictured above, in our September/October 2019 issue.
Fox Sparrow is one of the most geographically variable bird species in North America. Experts have identified at least 18 subspecies partitioned into three or four distinct groups that each differ in breeding habitat, vocalizations, plumage, and behavior. The species breeds in montane forest across the northern boreal forest of Canada and Alaska and in the western United States, generally preferring streamside thickets and chaparral. By October, Fox Sparrows have vacated the breeding range and can be found across most of the lower 48 states in dense thickets, where they commonly occur with other sparrows seeking similar habitats. During the nonbreeding season in January, the species is found in the eastern states, especially the Southeast, and along the entire Pacific Coast from coastal British Columbia to southern California. Listen for the species’ loud smack call, a sure giveaway that a bird is lurking out of sight in deep brush.
eBird is the real-time online checklist operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon. “On the Move” is written by eBird’s Garrett MacDonald, Chris Wood, Marshall Iliff, and Brian Sullivan. Submit your bird sightings at ebird.org.
A version of this article appeared in “Birding Briefs” in the September/October 2019 issue of BirdWatching.