Brooklyn Bird Watch: Fox Sparrow

Professional bird photographer Heather Wolf, author of “Birding at the Bridge,” has taken many great bird photos featured in Brooklyn Bird Watch. 

Many featured birds are not necessarily native to Brooklyn, as many of them are migratory birds just passing through. That is the case with the Fox Sparrow, pictured here. Named for the rich red hues of its plumage, Fox Sparrows are ground foragers and use their colors to blend into the forest floor.

National Geographic described the Fox Sparrow’s song as a “melodic warble composed of 7 or more phrases,” which sounds appropriate, one imagines, for a bird with a scientific name as lyrical as Passerella iliaca. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’ quotes an exuberant 19th century naturalist named William Brewster who was obviously inspired by the song of the breeding Fox Sparrows in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. “At all hours of the day,” Brewster wrote, “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.”

Interestingly, The Cornell Lab describes, more recently of course, the Fox Sparrow song like this: “In spring and summer, listen for Fox Sparrows’ sweet, whistled song from scrub or forest; also, pay attention for a sharp smack call.” Once the Fox Sparrow returns from it’s migration, listen out for that sharp smack call.

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