Renard Isn’t the Only Fox in the Forest at Riverwood This Fall

Red Foxes are prowling through many of the parks in Mississauga and although I haven’t seen any in Riverwood I’m sure they live there. Another type of Fox, though, is much easier to see. It is active in the daylight and it likes to scavenge for seeds under the bird feeders in fall. It shares a bright rusty red tail in common with a Red Fox but that’s the only similarity: This Fox is a sparrow.

photo of Fox Sparrow Leaves on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Do Fox Sparrows Live in Mississauga Year Round?

Unlike Red Foxes, Fox Sparrows don’t stay in Mississauga in the summer to raise their young. Instead, they fly through heading north to their preferred nesting grounds in the northern areas near James Bay. They are a widespread bird, though, and are known to nest throughout the western Canada mountains down into the USA and also on the Rock (in Newfoundland.)

We get to see these feisty sparrows in the spring and fall as they stop to kick up our leaves before flying onwards.

Is A Bright Rusty Bird Kicking Up a Storm of Leaves In Your Yard?

On migration, Fox Sparrows are common in yards and parks. They prefer to rummage through the leaf litter looking for insects and seeds.

Photo of Fox Sparrow Sunflower Seed on NaturalCrooksDotCom

The two I watched at Riverwood this week were intent on honouring this description. Although they could have emerged from the underbrush to eat seeds on the mown lawn grass in front of the feeder, they preferred to work to find their seeds and stay on the leaves.

AllAboutBirds, the Cornell University website says “They rarely venture far from cover.” Again that matched the behaviour of the ones I saw.

Photo of Fox Sparrow How You Usually See One on NaturalCrooksDotCom

This is how I usually see Fox Sparrows: through a tangle of undergrowth!

In fact, they did not like the sound of crunching fine gravel under passersby’s feet. They would retreat rapidly into a brush pile surrounded by small shrubs. As soon as the noise ended, though, one would almost run along the ground back to the rich hunting grounds behind the feeder.

Strangely enough, they didn’t seem at all worried by me, standing quietly on the grassy verge. I was able to approach easily (admittedly slowly) to within 6 feet of the birds. If there had been fewer dog- and child-walkers, runners, cyclists and chatting strollers that sunny morning, I could probably have got some excellent photos eventually.

Are All Fox Sparrows Red?

Like their namesake, Fox Sparrows come in different colour combos. There are Grey Foxes and Red Foxes and there are Red, Sooty and Slate-Coloured Fox Sparrows. The most common colouring in Ontario is the Red Fox Sparrow although there is quite a bit of variation in the amounts of grey and rust even on these birds.

Photo of Fox Sparrow Red Feet On NaturalCrooksDotCom

Aren’t the Grey and Black Beaked Sparrows American Tree Sparrows?

When I first spotted this Fox I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. Its bill was yellow underneath but appeared dark on top. Last autumn I remembered finding American Tree Sparrows here with that colouring.

But the American Tree Sparrows, which I more often find on top of the goldenrod than in the trees, don’t have streaks all over their chest. They are also much smaller birds and have a striking rust-coloured cap.

I checked the bills of Fox Sparrows on the computer at home and found they are highly variable. They can be grey, yellow or a combination of both. So the bill colour is not a good field mark for this bird.

See You In the Spring

The Fox Sparrows likely won’t stay at Riverwood. Generally, they keep migrating south to the US. With luck, though, I’ll see a few on their way back in the spring. This past spring, I met one at Beamer. Perhaps even one of these two!


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