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Male Cape sparrows in Namibia
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Passeridae
Genus: Passer
Brisson, 1760
Type species
Fringilla domestica[1]
Linnaeus, 1758

See text.

  • Pyrgita Cuvier, 1817
  • Corospiza Bonaparte, 1850
  • Auripasser Bonaparte, 1851
  • Sorella Hartlaub, 1880
  • Ammopasser Zarudny, 1880

Passer is a genus of sparrows, also known as the true sparrows. The genus contains 28 species and includes the house sparrow and the Eurasian tree sparrow, two of the most common birds in the world. They are small birds with thick bills for eating seeds, and are mostly coloured grey or brown. Native to the Old World, some species have been introduced throughout the world.


The genus Passer was introduced by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760.[2][3] The type species was subsequently designated as the house sparrow (Passer domesticus).[3][4] The name Passer is the Latin word for "sparrow."[5]

A mixed group of Passer sparrows containing a Eurasian tree sparrow, a male house sparrow, and female house or Spanish sparrows, feeding on grain in the town of Baikonur, Kazakhstan


The genus contains 28 species:[6][7]

Image Common Name Scientific name Distribution
Cape sparrow Passer melanurus central coast of Angola to eastern South Africa and Swaziland
Chestnut sparrow Passer eminibey Darfur in Sudan to Tanzania
Kordofan sparrow Passer cordofanicus South Sudan and Chad
Shelley's sparrow Passer shelleyi eastern Africa from South Sudan, southern Ethiopia, and north-western Somalia to northern Uganda and north-western Kenya
Kenya sparrow Passer rufocinctus Kenya and Tanzania
Great sparrow Passer motitensis southern Africa
Northern grey-headed sparrow Passer griseus tropical Africa
Swainson's sparrow Passer swainsonii northeastern Africa
Swahili sparrow Passer suahelicus southern Kenya and Tanzania
Parrot-billed sparrow Passer gongonensis eastern Africa
Southern grey-headed sparrow Passer diffusus Angola and Zambia southwards into South Africa
Sind sparrow Passer pyrrhonotus Indus valley region in South Asia
Russet sparrow Passer cinnamomeus southeastern Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh to Kashmir and Nuristan in Afghanistan, as well as China, Korea, and Japan
Eurasian tree sparrow Passer montanus Temperate Eurasia and Southeast Asia. Introduced in Sardinia, eastern Indonesia, the Philippines, Micronesia, Victoria and New South Wales in Australia and the U.S. states of Missouri, Illinois and Iowa.
Saxaul sparrow Passer ammodendri Central Asia
Plain-backed sparrow Passer flaveolus Myanmar to central Vietnam, and south to the western part of Peninsular Malaysia
Abd al-Kuri sparrow Passer hemileucus Abd al Kuri in the Socotra archipelago
Socotra sparrow Passer insularis islands of Socotra, Samhah, and Darsah
Spanish sparrow Passer hispaniolensis Mediterranean region, Macaronesia and south-west and central Asia
Italian sparrow Passer italiae northern and central Italy, Corsica, and small parts of France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia
House sparrow Passer domesticus Middle East, Eurasia and parts of North Africa. Introduced in subarctic North America, southern South America, southern Africa, eastern Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii
Somali sparrow Passer castanopterus northern Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Iago sparrow Passer iagoensis archipelago of Cape Verde
Desert sparrow Passer simplex Sahara Desert of northern Africa
Zarudny's sparrow Passer zarudnyi Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
Arabian golden sparrow Passer euchlorus south west Arabia and also the coast of Somalia and Djibouti
Sudan golden sparrow Passer luteus sub-Saharan Africa
Dead Sea sparrow Passer moabiticus Middle East and another in western Afghanistan and eastern Iran

Besides these living species, there are questionable fossils from as long ago as the Early Miocene,[8] and Passer predomesticus, from the Middle Pleistocene.


A great sparrow in Marakele National Park, South Africa

These sparrows are plump little brown or greyish birds, often with black, yellow or white markings. Typically 10–20 centimetres (3.9–7.9 in) long, they 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).[9][10] They have strong, stubby conical beaks with decurved culmens and blunter tips.[11] All species have calls similar to the house sparrow's chirrup or tschilp call, and some, though not the house sparrow, have elaborate songs.


A flock of Sudan golden sparrows near the Red Sea in Sudan

Most of its members are found naturally in open habitats in the warmer climates of Africa and southern Eurasia. Evolutionary studies suggest the genus originated in Africa. Several species have adapted to human habitation, and this has enabled the house sparrow in particular, in close association with humans, to extend its Eurasian range well beyond what was probably its original home in the Middle East.[12] Apart from this natural colonisation, the house sparrow has been introduced to many parts of the world outside its natural range, including the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Australia. The Eurasian tree sparrow has also been artificially introduced on a smaller scale, with populations in Australia and locally in Missouri and Illinois in the United States.[12]


Passer sparrows build an untidy nest, which, depending on species and nest site availability, may be in a bush or tree, a natural hole in a tree, in a building or in thatch, or in the fabric of the nest of species such as the white stork. The clutch of up to eight eggs is incubated by both parents typically for 12–14 days, with another 14–24 more days to fledging.

Passer sparrows are primarily ground-feeding seed-eaters, though they also consume small insects especially when breeding. A few species, like the house sparrow and northern grey-headed sparrow scavenge for food around cities, and are almost omnivorous.[13] Most Passer species are gregarious and will form substantial flocks.[9]


  1. ^ "Passeridae". aviansystematics.org. The Trust for Avian Systematics. Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  2. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, especes & leurs variétés (in French and Latin). Vol. 1. Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. p. 36, Pl. 1 fig. 6.
  3. ^ a b Mayr, Ernst; Greenway, James C. Jr, eds. (1962). Check-list of birds of the world. Vol. 15. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 8.
  4. ^ Gray, George Robert (1840). A List of the Genera of Birds : with an Indication of the Typical Species of Each Genus. London: R. and J.E. Taylor. p. 46.
  5. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London, United Kingdom: Christopher Helm. p. 294. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  6. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (January 2021). "Old World sparrows, snowfinches, weavers". IOC World Bird List Version 11.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 1 June 2021.
  7. ^ "Taxonomic Updates – IOC World Bird List". Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  8. ^ Mlíkovský 2002, p. 247
  9. ^ a b Clement, Harris & Davis 1993, p. 442
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Groschupf, Kathleen (2001). "Old World Sparrows". In Elphick, Chris; Dunning, John B. Jr.; Sibley, David (eds.). The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behaviour. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 562–564. ISBN 978-0-7136-6250-4.
  12. ^ a b Summers-Smith, J. D. (1990). "Changes in distribution and habitat utilisation by members of the genus Passer". In Pinowski, J.; Summers-Smith, J. D. (eds.). Granivorous birds in the agricultural landscape. Warszawa: Pánstwowe Wydawnictom Naukowe. pp. 11–29. ISBN 978-83-01-08460-8.
  13. ^ Summers-Smith 1988, pp. 253–255
Works cited

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