Birds of the World






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Passeriformes, Oscines, Passerida, Passeroidea - Passerids
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Passerida, Passeroidea
Families: Old World Sparrows, Accentors and Dunnock, Wagtails and Pipits,
   Przewalski's Finch, Estridine Finches and Waxbills, Weavers and Bishops,
   Whydahs and Indigo Birds
House Sparrow, Cape Weaver
  Order Passeriformes - Perching Birds
   Suborder Passeres - "Oscines," Song Birds
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Passerines. Most passerines are smaller than members of non-passerine orders. They have a perching foot with three toes directed forward and the one (the hallux) backward with locking tendons to facilitate perching when their tendons are flexed. All passerines scratch by bringing the foot over the wing. Incubation ranges from 11 -21 days. Young are altricial - they hatch blind with little or no down - and nidicolous - spending 10-15 days or so in the nest.  Subsequent development is rapid and young approach adult mass at fledging. Parents provide care beyond fledging.
Oscines, Suborder Passeres, are our "song birds" with complex syringeal muscles used to produce varied and complex vocalizations.
Passerida. Radiation in Eurasia, Africa and North America (with later colonization of South America). Passerida have two humeral fossae (Corvida have one).
Passeroidea - herbivores (many seed-eaters) centered in the Palearctic and New World. Many are bright and sexually dimorphic.

  Passerids - Sparrows, Wagtails, Accentors, Weavers, Estrildid Finches
Sibley and Monroe (1990) include 5 subfamilies in the Family Passeridae - the Passerinae, Motacillinae, Prunellinae, Ploceinae, and Estrildinae.   Old World origins – probably Africa. Members of this family generally have 10 primaries. These are Old World species, largely tropical in distribution, although some of the sparrows have been introduced around the world.
   Sibley and Ahlquist (1990) group several taxa in their Family Passeridae, including the passerids, pipits, accentors, weavers, and estrildines. For easier reference, I've kept these groups as separate families:
  Family Passeridae - Old World Sparrows,
        Rock Sparrows, Snowfinches
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  36 (38-49) species, 4 (11) genera (Passer (sparrows), Petronia (petronias), Carposiza brachydactyla (Pale Rockfinch), Montifringilla (snowfinches). Snowfinches are alpine representatives adapted to high altitude and low temperature.
    Old World origin - widespread in Africa and Eurasia, extending into Melanesia. Widely introduced in other areas. House Sparrows, Passer domesticus, are essentially worldwide. Closely related to the weavers (below).
Passerids are often associated with humans. These are small, brownish or gray stocky birds with a rounded head, short tails, and stout conical beaks. They lack rictal bristles. They have 10 primaries but the outer primary is slender and small. Most species are highly social and most are terrestrial - petronias are more arboreal and rarely forage on the ground). Some House and Eurasian Tree Sparrows are completely urban. Their songs are unmusical (and irritating) chirps and twitters. Representatives are found in a wide variety of habitats - from arid scrub to alpine meadows.
They are seed-eaters but will eat some insects - urban birds scavenge whatever is available.
Passerids are somewhat gregarious and a few are loosely colonial (the petronias). Nests are bulky assemblages of a variety of materials (even paper and string) - placed in trees, crevices, holes in buildings, or in the nest of another species. In urban areas, they use a variety of our structures to house their reproductive activities. All  nests are domed. They lay 3-6 eggs which are incubated either by the female alone or by both parents. Chicks fledge in ~15 days.
House Sparrow
House Sparrows,
Passer domesticus.
Marken, Netherlands
                                                     SI Web
  Family Prunellidae - Accentors, Dunnock
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  13 (13) species 1 genus (Prunella). Temperate Eurasia, mostly north of the Mediterranean and Red Seas and central mountains of Asia (the Himalayas) - extending into Japan. More northern representatives may migrate.
   Accentors have 10 primaries and an unspotted juvenal plumage. They are generally nondescript and shy and retiring, mainly terrestrial birds. These are small, drab sparrow-like birds. They have a thin, warbler-like bill with a sharp tip. The tarsus is scutellate in front with some scales fused. They have one molt/year and lack rectal bristles. The humeral fossae are double. Most species inhabit mountainous regions (two species, including the Dunnock, Prunella modularis, are also found in lowland areas). Their songs are varied and complex and help locate individuals. They are essentially omnivorous, feeding on invertebrates in summer and seeds and berries in winter.
   The Dunnock has been best studied. Some are monogamous, others are polyandrous - females mating with more than one male. Males peck at the female's cloacal aperature while the female flutters and distends the cloaca. The male apparently removes sperm packets deposited by previous mates, thereby insuring his own parentage (assuming he is the last to mate)... Males help at the nest and more than one male may incubate or feed the young. The female builds the nest, laying 3-6 eggs which are incubated 11-15 days. Young fledge at 12-14 days. Dunnocks are subject to brood parasitism by the Common Cuckoo.
  Family Motacillidae - Wagtails, Pipits
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  65 (66) species, 5 genera. Africa and Eurasia. Except for intentional introductions, pipits are the only group to have colonized the New World.  
   These are small terrestrial birds. They are found in open prairies, deserts, fields, and open shores. Pipits are gregarious and walk (never hop) on the ground. They have slender, often drab bodies with streaked plumage and a thin, pointed bill which is notched. Nostrils are perforate. Rictal bristles are present. They feed on the ground in open country.  Their tail is long and they have white outer tail feathers. They  wag their tails as they walk. The hind claw is long and nearly straight. Wagtails and Pipits have nine primaries and their tertials are elongate. They nest on the ground. Superficially, they resemble larks and live in similar habitats.
   Wagtails are small passerines with long tails that wag their tail energetically. They are small, terrestrial insectivorous birds of the Old World. Many nest in holes or crevices (or an old nest)
   Longclaws are found in Africa (and have an elongated hallux). They are colorful ground-feeding insectivores of open country.
  Photos by Ed Konrad    
  White Wagtail Gray Wagtail Watere Pipit
White Wagtail, Motacilla alba.
Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens, Greece.
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Grey Wagtail, Motacilla cinerea.
National Garden, Athens, Greece.
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Water Pipit. Anthus spinoletta.
Oropos, Greece.
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  Family Urocynchramidae - Przewalski's Finch
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  1 species, 1 genus (Urocynchramus pylzowi). Mountains, central-west China. Typically placed with emberizine finches but separated by Clements (2007) into a separate family. Placed in the Fringillidae by the Encyclopedia of Life.
   This finch is a small bird that resembles a rosefinch. It has a long tail. It is sexually dimorphic - males have a long tail and bright pink on the throat and underparts. Both sexes have streaked plumage on the upperparts. The bill is thinner than that of rosefinches and the outer primary (tenth) is 2/3rd the length of the ninth suggesting that it does not belong with the nine-primaried oscines (below). Found paired during breeding season and in flocks at other times. Song similar to that of buntings. Little known species.
  Family Estrildidae - Estrildine Finches, Waxbills
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  140 (141-130) species, 29 (26) genera. Old World tropics and Australasia. Pacific Ocean islands.
   African representatives include waxbills (Estrilda); antpeckers (Parmoptila); Nigritas (Nigrita); pytilias, twinspots, crimson-wings (Amadina, Cryptospiza); bluebills (Spermophaga); seedcrackers (Pyrenestes); firefinches (Lagonosticta); qualfinches (Ortygospiaza); Cordon-bleus, grenadiers (Uraeginthus).
   Munias and mannikins (Longhura) and most avadavats (Amandava) are also found in Asia.
   Parrotfinches (Erythrura) are found in both Asia and Australia
   There are 7 genera of Australian finches (including the Zebra Finch, Taeniopygia),
   Estrildids are small, gregarious, grass-land, and often colonial birds with conical bills. They are largely restricted to warmer climates and probably originated in Africa. Some are brightly colored, many with pink or red on the face, tail, or underparts - some are popular cage birds. Wings are short and rounded with 10 primaries. Tail shape varies. In most species, sexes are alike (monomorhpic). Several firefinches, quailfinches, parrotfinches and mannikins are dichromatic. Most estrildids are gregarious and form small family groups or large flocks. Most forage on the ground. They inhabit a variety of habitat from open grasslands, scrub, open woodlands to forest edges. They feed on seeds and will eat some insects, nectar and pollen.
   They are monogamous with strong pair bonds. Most build large, domed nests with a side entry or tunnel. Some nest in holes or use old nests of weavers. They lay 3-10 eggs which are incubated by both parents for 11-18 days. Chicks fledge before 25 days. Nestlings have species-specific patterns of distinctive gape patterns (bill and tongue) that may reflect light in dim surroundings and may discourage nest parasitism. Some African waxbills are parasitized by whydahs and indigobirds (Viduidae).
   Many also build communal roost nests.
   Estrildids are favorites in the pet store and have also been introduced to other parts of the world (Hawaii, New Zealand, etc.). It is somewhat disconcerting to be climbing Diamond Head attended by a family of Java Finches!
  Family Ploceidae - Weavers, Bishops
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  117 (116-108) species, 17 (11) genera. Sub-Sahara Africa, Arabia, southern Asia.
   A diverse group of small seed-eaters with conical bills. They are named for their elaborate nests including large communal structures. requiring advanced social organization.
   They have 10 primaries. The group can be divided into the buffalo weavers (Bubalornis, Dinemelllia), sparrow  weavers (Sporopipes, Plocepasser), typical weavers (Ploceus, Malimbus, Anaplectes, Quelea, Roudia, Brachycope), bishops and widow-birds (-weavers) (Euplectes), and Grosbeak Weavers (Amblyospiza).
    Males are often brightly colored - some are sexually dimporphic. Most have a relatively small head and short nect. The bill is short and straight but varies from slender and pointed to conical (Grosbeak-Weaver). Many species are gregarious; some are relatively solitary or may join mixed species flocks. The Red-billed Quelea, Quelea quelea, ("locust birds") gather in flocks of millions in the African savanna and are major agricultural pests. Weavers forage at all levels and one species is scansorial. Social species are especially vocal. Different species occupy habitats ranging from mountains to tropical rain forest, edges, scrub, savanna and marshes. They feed on a variety of seeds and may eat buds, flowers, nectar, fruit and insects and spiders. Young are fed a regurgitated paste of green grass seeds and insects.
   Some species are monogamous, others polygynous or cooperative in family groups. Most use thin strands of leaf fiber to weave their nests (Ploceus weavers). Buffalo weavers build massive twig nests with woven chambers inside. Sparrow weavers build apartment-house nests with up to 300 pairs, each  having a separate flask-shaped entry tube. Most weave nests with narrow entrances, facing downward (an adaptation to discourage nest parasitism and predation by snakes). Some are brood parasites. They usually lay 3-5 eggs which the female incubates 9-17 days. Fledging takes 11-24 days.
    Family Viduidae - Whydahs, Indigobirds, Parasitic Weaver
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    15 (20) species, 1 (2) genera (Vidua, Anomalospiza). Sub-Saharan Africa.
   Finch-like birds. Closely related to estrildid finches. Their plumage is usually black or deep blue. The tail is usually short except for breeding male whydahs who have long to very long tails. Species with shorter tails are called indigobirds. All species are sexually dimorphic but non-breeding males generally resemble duller females. The bill is short and conical. The feed on seeds and small insects. Weavers eat the eggs of their hosts (mostly cisticolas or prinias). They are found mainly in grasslands and the margins of cultivated lands, often close to their host species. Many of the indigobirds closely resemble each other. They are most reliably identified by their association with the specific species which they parasitize.
   All members of this group are brood parasites, usually laying in nests of estrildids, each species specializing on one species of finch. Nestling vidua finches mimic the mouth patterns and colors of the gape in their estrildine host species and the behavior of their nestilings. In most species, the adult male mimics the song of the host (which they learn as nestlings). The female typically lays 2-4 eggs in a series of host nests without destroying the host eggs.
Cape Weaver


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Photo by
  Ed Konrad
    Banner - House Sparrow. Merken, Netherlands.