Two mornings ago upon walking outside, we were greeted with a cheerful song that was both new and yet familiar. I spun around, went back for my binoculars, and found the year’s first Fox Sparrow trilling from a perch near the top of a White Spruce. Here in Southwest Alaska, there is no more certain emissary of Spring.
Our first connection with Fox Sparrows occurred back when we used to spend our summers in Seward, Alaska. There, in late spring, one served as our alarm clock. Perched just outside our camper his lilting song – delivered at a volume startling for a being so small – was generally among the first sounds of the morning.
“Foxy” sings three time during this minute-long clip. Redpolls, which continue to course through the village each day scavenging for spruce cone seeds and other food, can be heard in the background vocalizing with a mix of electric zaps, trills and cat-like mews.
Here along the Pacific Northwest Coast, Fox Sparrows are predominated by the “Sooty” race. Note the way the spots and blotches on his chest come together to form one large blotch in the center. Overall, Sooty Fox Sparrows have dark, uniformly brown backs. However, as with many passerines, there can be a great deal of variation in coloring. The individual in the photos accompanying this article is neither as dark nor as heavily splotched as other Sooties we’ve seen, and there’s a little slate coloring on his head.
Hopefully our new friend will find a mate in the coming days. We’ll be looking for their nest with its four or five pale cyan, speckled eggs on the ground beneath one of the village’s White Spruce trees or perhaps under an especially thick swatch of alders.
In any event, regardless of where you are, we hope your spring (or autumn, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere) is off to as good a start as this little fellow’s.
The range of Sooty Fox Sparrows is generally confined to the Pacific Coast. Other recognized forms of Fox Sparrows include “Slate-colored” and “Red.”