Brief Summary

Comprehensive Description

    provided by wikipedia
    For other uses, see Sparrow (disambiguation).

    Sparrows are a family of small passerine birds. They are also known as true sparrows, or Old World sparrows, names also used for a particular genus of the family, Passer.[1] They are distinct from both the American sparrows, in the family Passerellidae, 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 and Eurasian tree sparrows, 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 in small quantities.


    Male house sparrow in Germany

    Generally, sparrows are small, plump, brown and 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 (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][3] 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.[4]

    Taxonomy and systematics

    A sparrow chick

    The family Passeridae was introduced (as Passernia) by the French polymath Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1815.[5][6] Under the classification used in the Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) main groupings of the sparrows are the true sparrows (genus Passer), the snowfinches (typically one genus, Montifringilla), and the rock sparrows (Petronia and the pale rockfinch). These groups are similar to each other, and are each fairly homogeneous, especially Passer.[4] Some classifications also include the sparrow-weavers (Plocepasser) and several other African genera (otherwise classified among the weavers, Ploceidae)[4] which are morphologically similar to Passer.[7] According to a study of molecular and skeletal evidence by Jon Fjeldså and colleagues, the cinnamon ibon of the Philippines, previously considered to be a white-eye, is a sister taxon to the sparrows as defined by the HBW. They therefore classify it as its own subfamily within Passeridae.[7]

    Many early classifications of the sparrows placed them as close relatives of the weavers among the various families of small seed-eating birds, based on the similarity of their breeding behaviour, bill structure, and moult, among other characters. Some, starting with P. P. Suskin in the 1920s, placed the sparrows in the weaver family as the subfamily Passerinae, and tied them to Plocepasser. Another family sparrows were classed with was the finches (Fringillidae).[4]

    Some authorities previously classified the related estrildid finches of the Old World tropics and Australasia as members of the Passeridae. Like 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. The 2008 Christidis and Boles taxonomic scheme lists the estrildid finches as the separate family Estrildidae, leaving just the true sparrows[clarification needed] in Passeridae.[8]

    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, Passerellidae, with 22 genera recognised. Several species in this family are notable singers. American sparrows are related to Old World buntings, and until 2017, were included in the Old World bunting family Emberizidae.[9][10] [4] 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 more types of small birds "sparrows".[11] A few further bird species are also called sparrows, such as the Java sparrow, an estrildid finch.


    The family contains 43 species divided into 8 genera:[12]

    Distribution and habitat

    A male Dead Sea sparrow in southeastern Turkey

    The sparrows are indigenous to Europe, Africa and Asia. In the Americas, Australia, and other parts of the world, settlers imported some species which quickly naturalised, particularly in urban and degraded areas. House sparrows, for example, are now found throughout North America, Australia (every state except Western Australia), parts of southern and eastern Africa, and over much of the heavily populated parts of South America.[4]

    The sparrows are generally birds of open habitats, including grasslands, deserts, and scrubland. The snowfinches and ground-sparrows are all species of high latitudes. A few species, like the Eurasian tree sparrow, inhabit open woodland.[4] The aberrant cinnamon ibon has the most unusual habitat of the family, inhabiting the canopy of cloud forest in the Philippines.[7]

    Behaviour and ecology

    Sudan golden sparrows, seen here on the Red Sea coast of Sudan, are highly gregarious outside of the breeding season.

    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.[4]

    House sparrows water bathing near Black Sea in Batumi, Georgia

    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.[4]

    Relationships with humans

    House sparrows being fed brioche in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

    Sparrows may be the most familiar of all wild birds worldwide.[13] Many sparrow species commonly live in agricultural areas, and for several, human settlements are a primary habitat. The Eurasian tree and house sparrows are particularly specialised in living around humans and inhabit cities in large numbers. 17 of the 26 species recognised by the Handbook of the Birds of the World are known to nest on and feed around buildings.[4]

    Grain-eating species, in particular the house and Sudan golden sparrows, can be significant agricultural pests. Sparrows can be beneficial to humans as well, especially by eating insect pests. Attempts at the large-scale control of sparrows have failed to affect sparrow populations significantly, or have been accompanied by major increases in insect attacks probably resulting from a reduction of sparrows, as in the Great Sparrow Campaign in 1950s China.[4]

    Because of their familiarity, the house sparrow and other sparrows are frequently used to represent the common and vulgar, or the lewd.[14] Birds usually described later as sparrows are referred to in many works of ancient literature and religious texts in Europe and western Asia. These references may not always refer specifically to sparrows, or even to small, seed-eating birds, but later writers who were inspired by these texts often had the house sparrow and other members of the family in mind. In particular, sparrows were associated by the ancient Greeks with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, due to their perceived lustfulness, an association echoed by later writers such as Chaucer and Shakespeare.[4][14][15]

    Jesus's use of "sparrows" as an example of divine providence in the Gospel of Matthew[16] also inspired later references, such as that in the final scene of Shakespeare's Hamlet[14] and the Gospel hymn His Eye Is on the Sparrow.[17]

    Sparrows are represented in ancient Egyptian art very rarely, but an Egyptian hieroglyph G37 is based on the house sparrow. The symbol had no phonetic value and was used as a determinative in words to indicate small, narrow, or bad.[18]

    Sparrows have been kept as pets at many times in history, even though most are not particularly colourful and their songs are unremarkable. They are also difficult to keep, as pet sparrows must be raised by hand and a considerable amount of insects are required to feed them. Nevertheless, many are successful in hand raising orphaned or abandoned baby sparrows.[19]

    The earliest mentions of pet sparrows are from the Romans. Not all the passeri mentioned, often as pets, in Roman literature were necessarily sparrows, but some accounts of them clearly describe their appearance and habits.[20] The pet passer of Lesbia in Catullus's poems may not have been a sparrow, but a thrush or European goldfinch. John Skelton's The Boke of Phyllyp Sparowe is a lament for a pet house sparrow belonging to a Jane Scrope, narrated by Scrope.[4][14][20][21]


    1. ^ Summers-Smith 2005, p. 17
    2. ^ Bledsoe, A. H.; Payne, R. B. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. p. 222. ISBN 978-1-85391-186-6..mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output q{quotes:"""""'"'"}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/65/Lock-green.svg/9px-Lock-green.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-gray-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-red-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
    3. ^ Clement, Peter; Harris, Alan; Davis, John (1993). Finches and Sparrows: an Identification Guide. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-03424-9.
    4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Summers-Smith, J. Denis (2009). "Family Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)". In del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Christie, David. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 14: Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-84-96553-50-7.
    5. ^ Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel (1815). Analyse de la nature ou, Tableau de l'univers et des corps organisés (in French). 1815. Palermo: Self-published. p. 68.
    6. ^ Bock, Walter J. (1994). History and Nomenclature of Avian Family-Group Names. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. Number 222. New York: American Museum of Natural History. pp. 157, 252.
    7. ^ a b c Fjeldså, J.; Irestedt, M.; Ericson, P. G. P.; Zuccon, D. (2010). "The Cinnamon Ibon Hypocryptadius cinnamomeus is a forest canopy sparrow" (PDF). Ibis. 152 (4): 747–760. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.2010.01053.x.
    8. ^ Christidis & Boles 2008, p. 177
    9. ^ American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American Birds. 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
    10. ^ R. Terry Chesser; Kevin J. Burns; Carla Cicero; Jon L. Dunn; Andrew W. Kratter; Irby J. Lovette; Pamela C. Rasmussen; J. V. Remsen, Jr.; James D. Rising; Douglas F. Stotz; Kevin Winker (2017). "Fifty-eighth supplement to the American Ornithological Society's Check-list of North American Birds". Auk (Submitted manuscript). 134 (3): 751–773. doi:10.1642/AUK-17-72.1.[permanent dead link]
    11. ^ Summers-Smith 1988, p. 13
    12. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2018). "Old World sparrows, snowfinches, weavers". World Bird List Version 8.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
    13. ^ Clement, Peter; Colston, P. R. (2003). "Sparrows and Snowfinches". In Perrins, Christopher. The Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Firefly Books. pp. 590–591. ISBN 978-1-55297-777-4.
    14. ^ a b c d Summers-Smith 1963, pp. 49, 215
    15. ^ Shipley, A. E. (1899). "Sparrow". In Cheyne, Thomas Kelley; Black, J. Sutherland. Encyclopaedia Biblica. 4.
    16. ^ Matthew 10:29-31
    17. ^ Todd 2012, pp. 56–58
    18. ^ Houlihan & Goodman 1986, pp. 136–137
    19. ^ "Starling Talk: The Care and Feeding of Injured and Orphaned Starlings".
    20. ^ a b Summers-Smith 2005, pp. 29–35
    21. ^ Ferber, Michael (2007). "Sparrow". A Dictionary of Literary Symbols. Cambridge University Press. Archived from the original on 2013-07-24. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
    Works cited
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    • Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. (2008). Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. Canberra: CSIRO Publishing. ISBN 978-0-643-06511-6.
    • Houlihan, Patrick E.; Goodman, Steven M. (1986). The Natural History of Egypt, Volume I: The Birds of Ancient Egypt. Warminster: Aris & Philips. ISBN 978-0-85668-283-4.
    • Summers-Smith, J. Denis (1963). The House Sparrow. New Naturalist (1st. ed.). London: Collins.
    • Summers-Smith, J. Denis (1988). The Sparrows. illustrated by Robert Gillmor. Calton, Staffs, England: T. & A. D. Poyser. ISBN 978-0-85661-048-6.
    • Summers-Smith, J. Denis (2005). On Sparrows and Man: A Love-Hate Relationship. Guisborough (Cleveland). ISBN 978-0-9525383-2-5.
    • Todd, Kim (2012). Sparrow. Animal. Reaktion Books. ISBN 978-1-86189-875-3.

    Comprehensive Description
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    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.


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    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


    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    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

    Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry


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    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

Trophic Strategy

    Trophic Strategy
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    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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    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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    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:

    • hawks (Accipitridae)
    • owls (Strigidae)
    • domestic cats (Felis silvestris)
    • raccoons (Procyon lotor)
    • snakes (Serpentes)


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    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

    Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Life Expectancy

    Life Expectancy
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    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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    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: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous

    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

Conservation Status

    Conservation Status
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    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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    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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    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

Other Articles

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    House sparrows were introduced to North America in the 1850’s with the hope that they would eat the green inch worms that were causing problems in Central Park in New York City and help eliminate crop pests. New immigrants to North America also wanted familiar birds around them. The introductions were successful in that the sparrows successfully colonized in their new range. However, they did not successfully eradicate the insect pests.