The family Emberizidae (sparrows, buntings and relatives) falls within the order Passeriformes (perching birds). Members of the Emberizidae family are commonly referred to as American or New World sparrows and buntings. The common name "sparrow" is actually a misnomer and is based on a superficial resemblance the members of Emberizidae have to the family Passeridae (Old World sparrows). Old World sparrows have similar size, shape and colors as New World sparrows and were mistakenly called sparrows by people arriving in the New World. New World sparrows are not actually closely related to Old World sparrows despite their name.
The classification of the family Emberizidae has been the subject of much debate (see Systematic and Taxonomic History). For this account I will use the classification found in Howard and Moore’s third edition of the Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. Howard and Moore (2003) list 73 genera and 308 species of sparrows and buntings. The greatest diversity of Emberizids occurs in the New World where they are thought to have evolved.
On average, Emberizids are nondescript, small to medium sized, brownish birds. Many birdwatchers jokingly call them “little brown jobs”. They have a world-wide distribution and are found in a variety of different habitat types. Males and females are usually monogamous and are quite similar in appearance. Most Emberizids eat seeds and insects.
- Dickinson, E. 2003. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of Birds of the World, 3rd edition. London: Christopher Helm.
- Rising, J., D. Beadle. 1996. A Guide to the Identification and Natural History of the Sparrows of the United States and Canada. San Diego: Academic Press.
- Dunning, J. 2001. New World Sparrows. Pp. 516-535 in C Elphick, J Dunning, D Sibley, eds. The Sibly Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.