Sparrow, the name applied to various members of two families of birds. The two are usually designated as New World sparrows and Old World sparrows.

SparrowsSparrows have thick bills for cracking and eating seeds.
How Many Songs Does the Song Sparrow Sing?

The song sparrow is a common sparrow found in North America. But this bird is no ordinary singer. A song sparrow sings about 10 different tunes. Each song usually begins by repeating the same note three times. This is followed by a trill. A whole song sounds like “Sweet, sweet, sweet, tow-bee-tri-tri-tri!”

There are about 50 kinds of sparrows in North and South America. Many of these sparrows are good singers.

Among the best are vesper sparrows, fox sparrows, and white-crowned sparrows.

Other kinds of sparrows live in Africa, Asia, and Europe. One of these, the house sparrow, is now found almost everywhere. But this bird does not sing nearly so well as the American song sparrow. In fact, the house sparrow doesn’t sing at all. Its call is a simple “Cheep, cheep.”

New World Sparrows

New World sparrows are 4 1/4 to 8 inches (11.4 to 20.3 cm) long. They are mostly various shades of brown, streaked and mottled with gray. These birds inhabit grasslands, scrublands, and open woodlands. Although native to America, they are also found in Eurasia and Africa. They are called buntings by the British.

Seeds are the mainstay of their diet, but sparrows also eat some foliage, fruit, and insects. They feed their young almost exclusively on insects, which they first swallow (to predigest them) and regurgitate into the babies' mouths. New World sparrows build cup-shaped nests in bushes or low trees. Usually two or three eggs are laid.

Numerous species of New World sparrows—such as the song sparrow, chipping sparrow, and the vesper sparrow—are found throughout much of the United States. The song sparrow is known for its melodious song. It is from 5 to 7 inches (12.7 to 17.8 cm) long and has a large black spot on its chest. The chipping sparrow is from 5 to 5 3/4 inches (12.7 to 14.6 cm) long. Its call is primarily a chipping sound. This gray-breasted sparrow has a bright, reddish-brown cap, a black line through the eyes, and a white line above the eyes. The field sparrow, found east of the Rockies, is from 5 1/4 to 6 inches (13.3 to 15.2 cm) long. It has a pink bill and a rust-colored cap. The vesper sparrow is 5 to 6 1/2 inches (12.7 to 16.5 cm) long. It is a good singer and is often heard in the evening. This bird can be identified by its white outer tail feathers.

Old World Sparrows

Old World sparrows are 4 to 7 inches (10.2 to 17.8 cm) long. They have thick bills and are mainly various shades of brown or gray, sometimes with bright yellow markings. They eat mainly seeds. They usually nest in holes in rocks or buildings. The female lays from 3 to 7 eggs.

The best known of the Old World sparrows is the house, or English, sparrow, which is native to Eurasia and North Africa. It is found in almost all parts of the world, especially in areas inhabited by humans. The bird was introduced into the United States in the 1850's and quickly spread throughout the country. House sparrows range in length from 5 to 6 1/4 inches (12.7 to 15.9 cm). Country-dwelling males are buff-brown above and light gray below, with white cheeks, chestnut napes, and black throats; females are mostly dull brown. City-dwelling house sparrows of both sexes are mostly a sooty, brownish-gray. House sparrows usually make their nest in a building, sometimes in a tree. The female lays five or six eggs.

New World sparrows are of the subfamily Emberizinae of the family Emberizidae. The song sparrow is Melospiza melodia; the field sparrow, Spizella pusilla; the chipping sparrow, S. passerina; the vesper sparrow, Pooecetes gramineus.

Most biologists classify Old World sparrows in the subfamily Passerinae of the family Ploceidae; some classify them in the family Passeridae. The house sparrow is Passer domesticus.