2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Birds

iOld World sparrows
House Sparrow
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Passeridae
Illiger, 1811


This article is about "true sparrows," the Old World sparrows in the family Passeridae. Sparrows are small passerine birds. The differences between sparrow species can be subtle. In general, sparrows tend to be small plump brownish or greyish birds with short tails and stubby powerful beaks. 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.

The Old World true sparrows are found indigenously in 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 heavily populated parts of South America.

Some authorities also classify the closely related estrildid finches of the equatorial regions and Australasia as members of the Passeridae. 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. About 140 species are native to the old world tropics and Australasia. Most taxonomic schemes list the estrildid finches as the separate family Estrildidae, leaving just the true sparrows in Passeridae.

American sparrows, or New World sparrows, are not closely related to the true sparrows, despite some physical resemblance, such as the seed-eaters bill and frequently well-marked heads. They are in the family Emberizidae.

The Hedge Sparrow or Dunnock (Prunella modularis) is similarly unrelated. It is a sparrow in name only, a relic of the old practice of calling any small bird a "sparrow".

There are 35 species of Old World sparrows, in four genera.

Species list

  • Passer, the true sparrows
    • Saxaul Sparrow, Passer ammodendri
    • House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
    • Spanish Sparrow, Passer hispaniolensis
    • Sind Sparrow, Passer pyrrhonotus
    • Somali Sparrow, Passer castanopterus
    • Cinnamon Sparrow or Russet Sparrow, Passer rutilans
    • Pegu Sparrow or Plain-backed Sparrow, Passer flaveolus
    • Dead Sea Sparrow, Passer moabiticus
    • Rufous Sparrow, Passer motitensis
    • Socotra Sparrow, Passer insularis
    • Iago Sparrow or Cape Verde Sparrow, Passer iagoensis
    • Cape Sparrow or Mossie, Passer melanurus
    • Grey-headed Sparrow, Passer griseus
    • Swainson's Sparrow, Passer swainsonii
    • Parrot-billed Sparrow, Passer gongonensis
    • Swaheli Sparrow, Passer suahelicus
    • Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Passer diffusus
    • Desert Sparrow, Passer simplex
    • Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus
    • Sudan Golden Sparrow, Passer luteus
    • Arabian Golden Sparrow, Passer euchlorus
    • Chestnut Sparrow, Passer eminibey
    • Italian Sparrow, Passer italiae
    • Kenya Rufous Sparrow, Passer rufocinctus
    • Kordofan Rufous Sparrow, Passer cordofanicus
    • Shelley's Rufous Sparrow, Passer shelleyi
    • Asian Desert Sparrow, Passer zarudnyi
  • Petronia, the rock sparrows
    • Yellow-spotted Petronia, Petronia pyrgita
    • Chestnut-shouldered Petronia, Petronia xanthocollis
    • Yellow-throated Petronia, Petronia superciliaris
    • Bush Petronia, Petronia dentata
    • Rock Sparrow, Petronia petronia
  • Carpospiza, Pale Rockfinch
    • Pale Rockfinch, Carpospiza brachydactyla
  • Montifringilla, the snowfinches
    • White-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla nivalis
    • Black-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla adamsi
    • White-rumped Snowfinch, Montifringilla taczanowskii
    • Père David's Snowfinch, Montifringilla davidiana
    • Rufous-necked Snowfinch, Montifringilla ruficollis
    • Blanford's Snowfinch, Montifringilla blanfordi
    • Afghan Snowfinch, Montifringilla theresae
    • Tibetan Snowfinch, Montifringilla henrici

Sparrows in literature

References to sparrows in literature usually refer to the House Sparrow.

In Stephen King's novel, The Dark Half, unspecified sparrows play a major role. They are introduced as psychopomps, and harbingers of the undead, which help carry the dead back to the world of the living, and the living to the realm of the dead.

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