Overview

Comprehensive Description

Diversity

The family Passeridae includes Old World sparrows, snowfinches and relatives. They are often confused with New World sparrows (family Emberizidae). Though they share a superficial resemblance, these two groups are not closely related. Most members of this family are brown or gray and lack any bright coloration. They are seed eaters and have a short, strong, decurved bill. Their songs are usually simple.

Old World sparrows were originally found in Europe, Asia and Africa. However, as a result of introductions by humans, today they have an almost worldwide distribution. Old World sparrows generally inhabit open areas. They are well adapted to urban landscapes and can be found alongside humans throughout the world.

Howard and Moore’s Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World (2003) lists 11 genera and 40 species within Passeridae.

  • Dickinson, E. 2003. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of Birds of the World, 3rd edition. London: Christopher Helm.
  • Groschupf, K. 2001. Old World Sparrows. Pp. 562-564 in C Elphick, J Dunning, D Sibley, eds. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
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Distribution

Geographic Range

Members of the family Passeridae are native to the Palearctic, Ethiopian and Oriental regions, and the highest diversity of Old World sparrows exists in these regions. Humans introduced Old World sparrows to the Nearctic, Neotropical and Australian regions. House sparrows (Passer domesticus) and Eurasian tree sparrows (Passer montanus) have been the most successful of the introduced sparrows. In fact, house sparrows, which are native to North Africa, Europe and Asia, are now the most widespread bird species in the world.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); neotropical (Introduced ); australian (Introduced )

Other Geographic Terms: holarctic ; cosmopolitan

  • Campbell, B., E. Lack. 1985. A Dictionary of Birds. Vermillion: Buteo Books.
  • Summers-Smith, J. 1988. The Sparrows: A Study of the Genus Passer. Calton: T & AD Poyser Ltd.
  • Eno, S. 2002. "House Sparrows" (On-line). Accessed February 17, 2004 at http://audubon-omaha.org/bbbox/ban/hsbyse.htm.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Old World sparrows are small to medium sized, stocky birds (12 to 18 cm long) with a short bill with a decurved culmen and short legs. They do not have the bright coloration typical of some birds Rather, most are dull browns and grays and may have black and white markings. Old World sparrows strongly resemble New World sparrows, and the two are often confused.

Most species of Old World sparrows are sexually dimorphic. Males are usually bigger than females, and sometimes have black on the throat and chin along with some black on their heads. Both females and juveniles usually have less coloration than adult males. Male feather colors may be brighter during the breeding season. In some species, the bill changes color from tan to black during the breeding season.

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently; male more colorful

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Ecology

Habitat

Old World sparrows generally live in open habitats and are not usually found in forests. They are found in rocky arid habitat, open woodlands, swamps, marshy areas, scrub, savanna, forest clearings, coastal cliffs and near agricultural, suburban and urban areas. They can also live and breed inside buildings such as airports and shopping malls. In fact, they are so adaptable that one pair of sparrows actually survived and bred 640 meters underground in a coal mine in England. They survived on food given to them by miners. Old World sparrows can be found in habitats from sea level up to 4500 meters.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; polar ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; scrub forest ; mountains

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural ; riparian

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Old World sparrows are omnivorous. During the breeding season they are primarily insectivores. Throughout the rest of the year they are primarily seed eaters. They eat cereals, grain, grass and weed seeds, seed sprouts, berries and buds, insects and spiders. In urban areas they will also eat human waste. Young sparrows are fed primarily insects.

Old World sparrows often feed in flocks, usually on the ground. There are dominance hierarchies within feeding flocks and sometimes females will displace males at feeders. They are usually diurnal, but will sometimes feed at night in urban areas to catch insects that are attracted to lights. Bill length can change as much as 5 to 15 percent during the non-breeding season. The seeds the birds eat wear down their bills at a faster rate than they can grow back.

Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore ); herbivore (Granivore ); omnivore

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Old World sparrows are important members of their ecosystem. Because of their food habits, they likely have a regulatory influence on insect populations, and they are an important food source for their predators. They also serve as seed dispersal agents for many plant species. House sparrows (Passer domesticus) in particular also have a large (although negative) effect on many other bird species. They are very aggressive and are able to take over nests and kill the eggs and nestlings of other birds. This is particularly problematic in the areas where they have been introduced, since they displace native species, many of which are already facing population declines.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

Known predators of Old World sparrows include hawks (family Accipitridae), owls (family Strigidae), snakes (suborder Serpentes), house cats (Felis silvestris) and raccoons (Procyon lotor). In a study in England, Churcher and Lawton (1987) found that 30 percent of house sparrow (Passer domesticus) deaths could be attributed to cats. A possible strategy Old World sparrows use to reduce predation is foraging in flocks, a behavior that allows for increased vigilance and reduces each individual bird's chance of being caught.

Known Predators:

  • Churcher, P., J. Lawton. 1987. Predation by domestic cats in an English village. Journal of Zoology, 212: 439-455.
  • Granholm, S. 2003. "California Wildlife Habitat Relationships System" (On-line). Accessed February 17, 2004 at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/whdab/html/B547.html.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Unlike many Passerines, most Old World sparrows do not have a true song. They usually chip and sometimes string chip-notes together. They also have distinct alarm calls.

Old World sparrows have numerous threat and mating displays that individuals use to communicate with other.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Annual adult survival is usually between 45 to 65 percent for members of Passeridae. The oldest recorded Old World sparrow was a house sparrow (Passer domesticus) that lived to be 13 years and 4 months in the wild. There are also records of grey-headed sparrows (Passer griseus) that survived 11 years in captivity, golden sparrows (Passer luteus) living 9 to 14 years in captivity and house sparrows living 12 to 14 years in captivity.

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Reproduction

Old World sparrows are usually monogamous. However, polygyny does occur. Even among the socially monogamous species, extra-pair copulation (birds mating with individuals other than their mate) is common. Males defend breeding territories and attract mates by calling. In some species, males have courtship displays which may involve feather fluffing, holding the wings out, shaking them, and raising the tail feathers. Displays are usually accompanied by calling. Pairs will sometimes take part in mutual preening.

Mating System: monogamous ; polyandrous ; polygynous

Breeding coincides with times of maximum food abundance, usually in the spring. In arid habitats, breeding is associated with the rainy season. Because of this, irrigation by farmers can affect when these birds breed. Many species have more than one brood per year (up to four, usually two to three) and they will re-nest if their initial nest is lost due to depredation. There is one record of a house sparrow (Passer domesticus) raising seven broods in a single season.

Many species of Old World sparrows nest colonially. Nests are often placed in tree cavities, rock crevices, nest boxes or holes in man-made buildings. They also build nests in trees and shrubs. Their untidy nests are often domed (although some species build open cup nests) and are made with grass and lined with feathers. They will often steal nesting material from neighbors. Old World sparrows will reuse nests, both within a single breeding season and from year to year.

Clutch size ranges from 1 to 8 (4 to 5 on average). Eggs are white with dark spots. Incubation lasts 9 to 16 days and the eggs hatch synchronously. Young are fed by both parents and fledge after 10 to 21 days; they will fledge earlier if the nest is disturbed. Young reach sexual maturity in 6 months to a year.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization (Internal )

Incubation lasts 9 to 16 days and the eggs hatch synchronously. The altricial young are fed by both parents. Parents also remove fecal sacks and may brood young birds. The chicks fledge after 10 to 21 days, earlier if the nest is disturbed. The males feed the fledglings for a few days after they leave the nest, before the young join flocks of other juveniles.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care

  • Campbell, B., E. Lack. 1985. A Dictionary of Birds. Vermillion: Buteo Books.
  • Summers-Smith, J. 1988. The Sparrows: A Study of the Genus Passer. Calton: T & AD Poyser Ltd.
  • Groschupf, K. 2001. Old World Sparrows. Pp. 562-564 in C Elphick, J Dunning, D Sibley, eds. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
                                        
Specimen Records:310Public Records:127
Specimens with Sequences:259Public Species:14
Specimens with Barcodes:254Public BINs:14
Species:28         
Species With Barcodes:20         
          
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Barcode data

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Locations of barcode samples

Collection Sites: world map showing specimen collection locations for Passeridae

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Conservation

Conservation Status

No members of the family Passeridae are listed by the IUCN, CITES, the US MBTA or the US Federal List. As a result of changes in agricultural processes, some populations are declining. However, at this point, Old World sparrows do not require conservation efforts.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Old World sparrows are crop pests, causing damage in orchards and gardens. They can also be problematic in urban areas where flocks gather and leave droppings that can kill ornamental plants and cause damage to cars. They also build nests in unwanted places such as air vents and eaves of buildings. In addition, they can carry diseases such as Newcastle disease, salmonelosis and toxoplasmosis, among others. They can also spread parasites to humans and livestock. Much time and money are spent to exclude unwanted sparrows. House sparrows (Passer domesticus) in particular cause the problems listed above because they are so widespread and abundant.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); crop pest; household pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Old World sparrows help to control the populations of some agricultural pests, especially those found on corn, grapes and wheat. They are also common visitors to bird feeders.

Positive Impacts: controls pest population

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Wikipedia

Sparrow

The sparrows, true sparrows, or Old World sparrows in the family Passeridae are small passerine birds. As eight or more species nest in or near buildings, and the House Sparrow and Eurasian Tree Sparrow in particular inhabit cities in large numbers, sparrows may be the most familiar of all wild birds.[1]

Contents

Description

Generally, sparrows tend to be small, plump brown-grey birds with short tails and stubby, powerful beaks. The differences between sparrow species can be subtle. They are primarily seed-eaters, though they also consume small insects. A few species scavenge for food around cities and, like gulls or pigeons, will happily eat virtually anything in small quantities. Members of this family range in size from the Chestnut Sparrow (Passer eminibey), at 11.4 centimetres (4.5 in) and 13.4 grams (0.47 oz), to the Parrot-billed Sparrow (Passer gongonensis), at 18 centimetres (7.1 in) and 42 grams (1.5 oz). 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.[2]

Taxonomy

A sparrow chick in Italy

Some authorities previously classified the related estrildid finches of the Old World tropics and Australasia as members of the Passeridae.[3] Like the true sparrows, the estrildid finches are small, gregarious and often colonial seed-eaters with short, thick, but pointed bills. They are broadly similar in structure and habits, but tend to be very colourful and vary greatly in their plumage. There are about 140 species. The 2008 Christidis and Boles taxonomic scheme lists the estrildid finches as the separate family Estrildidae, leaving just the true sparrows in Passeridae.[3]

Despite some resemblance such as the seed-eater's bill and frequently well-marked heads, American sparrows, or New World sparrows, are members of a different family, Emberizidae, which also includes the buntings. The Hedge Sparrow or Dunnock (Prunella modularis) is similarly unrelated. It is a sparrow in name only, a relict of the old practice of calling any small bird a "sparrow".

Species

This is a list of sparrow species:

Distribution

The Old World true sparrows are indigenous to Europe, Africa and Asia. In Australia and the Americas, early settlers imported some species which quickly naturalised, particularly in urban and degraded areas. House Sparrows, for example, are now found throughout North America, in every state of Australia except Western Australia, and over much of the heavily populated parts of South America.

See also

References

  1. ^ Clement, Peter; Colston, P. R. (2003). "Sparrows and Snowfinches". In Perrins, Christopher. The Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Firefly Books. pp. 590–591. ISBN 1-55297-777-3. 
  2. ^ Bledsoe, A. H.; Payne, R. B. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph. ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 222. ISBN 1-85391-186-0. 
  3. ^ a b Christidis L, Boles WE (2008). Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. Canberra: CSIRO Publishing. pp. 177. ISBN 9780643065116. 

Further reading

  • Clement, Peter; Harris, Alan; Davis, John (1993). Finches and Sparrows: an Identification Guide. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03424-9. 
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