prunella modularis

Sparrow

[spar-oh]

The "true sparrows", the Old World sparrows in the family Passeridae, are small passerine birds. Generally, sparrows tend to be small, plump brown-grey birds with short tails and stubby yet 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. This family ranges in size from the Chestnut Sparrow (Passer eminibey), at 11.4 cm (4.5 inches) and 13.4 g., to the Parrot-billed Sparrow (Passer gongonensis), at 18 cm (7 inches) and 42 g. (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.

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 the 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-eater's 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. Below is the full list.

Species list in taxonomic order

This is a list of sparrow species, presented in taxonomic order.

Sparrows in literature

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

References

  • Clement, Harris and Davis, Finches and Sparrows ISBN 0-7136-8017-2 (hardcover) ISBN 0-7136-5203-9 (paperback)

External links

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