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Passeridae - Old World Sparrows

Sparrow-Weaver
White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali ©Trevor Hardaker Website

Passeridae are a family of small passerines, old world sparrows and allies. They are also known as true sparrows, or Old World sparrows, names also used for a particular genus of the family, Passer. They are distinct from both the American sparrows, in the family Emberizidae, and from a few other birds sharing their name, such as the Java Sparrow of the family Estrildidae.

Many species nest on buildings, and the House Sparrow and Eurasian Tree Sparrow in particular inhabit cities in large numbers, so sparrows are among the most familiar of all wild birds. They are primarily seed-eaters, though they also consume small insects. Some species scavenge for food around cities and, like gulls or rock doves, will happily eat virtually anything edible in small quantities.

Generally, sparrows are small, plump, brown-grey birds with short tails and stubby, powerful beaks. The differences between sparrow species can be subtle. Members of this family range in size from the Chestnut Sparrow Passer eminibey, at 11.4 centimetres and 13.4 grams, to the Parrot-billed Sparrow Passer gongonensis, at 18 centimetres and 42 grams. Sparrows are physically similar to other seed-eating birds, such as finches, but have a vestigial dorsal outer primary feather and an extra bone in the tongue. This bone, the preglossale, helps stiffen the tongue when holding seeds. Other adaptations towards eating seeds are specialised bills and elongated and specialised alimentary canals.

Sparrows are generally social birds, with many species breeding in loose colonies and most species occurring in flocks during the non-breeding season. The Great Sparrow is an exception, breeding in solitary pairs and remaining only in small family groups in the non-breeding season. Most sparrows form large roosting aggregations in the non-breeding seasons that contain only a single species (in contrast to multi-species flocks that might gather for foraging). Sites are chosen for cover and include trees, thick bushes and reed beds. The assemblages can be quite large with up to 10,000 house sparrows counted in one roost in Egypt.

The sparrows are some of the few passerine birds that engage in dust bathing. Sparrows will first scratch a hole in the ground with their feet, then lie in it and fling dirt or sand over their bodies with flicks of their wings. They will also bathe in water, or in dry or melting snow. Water bathing is similar to dust bathing, with the sparrow standing in shallow water and flicking water over its back with its wings, also ducking its head under the water. Both activities are social, with up to a hundred birds participating at once, and is followed by preening and sometimes group singing

According to the IOC there are 51 species of Old World Sparrows. They are:

Cinnamon Ibon Hypocryptadius cinnamomeus

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali
Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser superciliosus
Donaldson Smith's Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser donaldsoni
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser rufoscapulatus

Rufous-tailed Weaver Histurgops ruficauda

Grey-capped Social Weaver Pseudonigrita arnaudi
Black-capped Social Weaver Pseudonigrita cabanisi

Sociable Weaver Philetairus socius

Saxaul Sparrow Passer ammodendri
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Italian Sparrow Passer italiae
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis
Sind Sparrow Passer pyrrhonotus
Somali Sparrow Passer castanopterus
Russet Sparrow Passer rutilans
Plain-backed Sparrow Passer flaveolus
Dead Sea Sparrow Passer moabiticus
Iago Sparrow Passer iagoensis
Great Sparrow Passer motitensis
Socotra Sparrow Passer insularis
Abd al-Kuri Sparrow Passer hemileucus
Kenya Sparrow Passer rufocinctus
Shelley's Sparrow Passer shelleyi
Kordofan Sparrow Passer cordofanicus
Cape Sparrow Passer melanurus
Northern Grey-headed Sparrow Passer griseus
Swainson's Sparrow Passer swainsonii
Parrot-billed Sparrow Passer gongonensis
Swahili Sparrow Passer suahelicus
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow Passer diffusus
Desert Sparrow Passer simplex
Zarudny's Sparrow Passer zarudnyi
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Sudan Golden Sparrow Passer luteus
Arabian Golden Sparrow Passer euchlorus
Chestnut Sparrow Passer eminibey

Pale Rockfinch Carpospiza brachydactyla

Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia

Yellow-throated Petronia Gymnoris superciliaris
Bush Petronia Gymnoris dentata
Yellow-spotted Petronia Gymnoris pyrgita
Yellow-throated Sparrow Gymnoris xanthocollis

White-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis
Henri's Snowfinch Montifringilla henrici
Tibetan Snowfinch Montifringilla adamsi

White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii

Pere David's Snowfinch Pyrgilauda davidiana
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis
Blanford's Snowfinch Pyrgilauda blanfordi
Afghan Snowfinch Pyrgilauda theresae

Family Links

Old World Sparrows Passeridae

Cornell Family Account

Very limited in scope

Old World Sparrows Passeridae

HBW Family Account

Annotated species list

Old World Sparrows Passeridae

Family Account

The Old World Sparrows [Passeridae] are familiar to most people, even those who are non-birders, because some of them are ubiquitous urban sparrows

Old World Sparrows Passeridae

BTO Family Account

The House Sparrow must rank as one of the most familiar birds in the world - occurring naturally in Europe, Asia and northern Africa, it has also been introduced, and become well established in, the Americas, southern Africa and parts of Australasia. In many areas it coexists closely with man, but in some parts of its range (parts of Asia, for instance) it is replaced as the city sparrow by the Tree Sparrow.

Old World Sparrows Passeridae

Family Account

Sparrows are a family of small passerine birds, Passeridae. They are also known as true sparrows, or Old World sparrows, names also used for a particular genus of the family, Passer.

Species Links

Tree Sparrow Passer montanus

RSPB Species Account

Smaller than a house sparrow and more active, with its tail almost permanently cocked.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus

RSPB Species Account

Noisy and gregarious, these cheerful exploiters of man's rubbish and wastefulness, have managed to colonise most of the world.

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali

Species Account

The white-browed sparrow-weaver (Plocepasser mahali) is a predominantly brown, sparrow-sized bird found throughout central and north-central southern Africa.[2] It is found in groups of two to eleven individuals consisting of one breeding pair and nonreproductive individuals.

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Plocepasser mahali A. Smith, 1836, Modder River, Thabanchu, South Africa. Genus sometimes placed in sparrow family (Passeridae). Proposed race propinquatus (described from Baardheere, on R Jubba, in S Somalia) is synonymized with melanorhynchus; terricolor (N Namibia) included in ansorgei; stridens (E Tanzania) included in pectoralis; and stentor (from Northern Cape, in W South Africa) is treated as a synonym of nominate. Four subspecies currently recognized.

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali

IUCN Species Status

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali

BirdLife Species Account

House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Species Account

The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) is a bird of the sparrow family Passeridae, found in most parts of the world.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Cornell Species Account

You can find House Sparrows most places where there are houses (or other buildings), and few places where there aren’t. Along with two other introduced species, the European Starling and the Rock Pigeon, these are some of our most common birds.

Tree Sparrow Passer montanus

Species Account

The Eurasian tree sparrow (Passer montanus) is a passerine bird in the sparrow family with a rich chestnut crown and nape, and a black patch on each pure white cheek.

Tree Sparrow Passer montanus

BTO Species Account

Tree Sparrows are fairly easy to separate from House Sparrows once you have 'got your eye in'. Both male and female Tree Sparrows are of similar appearance.

Tree Sparrow Passer montanus

Website

These appealing and attractive birds are in decline in the UK. They are primarily a bird of lowland park and farmland , occurring in UK and Ireland , much of temperate Europe and across Asia.

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 51

Useful Reading

Finches & Sparrows

Peter Clement, Alan Harris & John Davis Helm 1993

ISBN: 0713680172

Buy this book from NHBS.com

On Sparrows and Man - A Love-Hate Relationship

J Denis Summers-Smith - 112 pages, colour photos. Denis Summers-Smith 2006

ISBN: 0952538326

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Other Links

Concerns about the population decline of the House Sparrow Passer domesticus in the Netherlands

Website

"Who is worrying about the decline of the House Sparrow? I was and still am…..I'll explain why. As can be seen from the above graph there is a steady long-term decline in House Sparrow numbers in the USA and similar declines have been found in European countries such as the UK, Germany and the Netherlands…"