Sparrows generally consist of two families – the Old World sparrows belonging to the family Passeridae and the New World sparrows belonging to the family Passerellidae. The Old World species are passerine birds often called “true sparrows”. In contrast, the New World species are closely related to Old World buntings or finches.

Scientific Classification


Scientific Classification


Several other birds also share the name sparrow even though they are technically not sparrows, like the Java sparrow, the Timor sparrow, and the dunnock, which is also called the Hedge sparrow.

Types of Sparrows

List of the Common Types of Sparrows

There are 43 Old World sparrows and 138 New World sparrows. Besides them, three other birds are also referred to as sparrows.

Old World Sparrows

  • Cape Sparrow
  • Eurasian Tree Sparrow
  • House Sparrow
  • Rock Sparrow
  • Shelley’s Sparrow
  • Somali Sparrow
  • Yellow-throated Sparrow

New World Sparrows

  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Black-chested Sparrow
  • Brewer’s Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Clay-colored Sparrow  
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Field Sparrow
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Le Conte’s Sparrow
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow 
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Sooty Fox Sparrow
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow

Other Birds commonly referred to as Sparrows

  • Java Sparrow
  • Timor Sparrow
  • Hedge Sparrow

Physical Description and Appearance


Size: Length: Old World Sparrow – 4.1-7.1 inches (0.1-0.2 m); New World Sparrow – 4.3-5.1 inches (0.1-0.13 m)

Weight: Old World Sparrow – 0.47-1.5 oz (13.4-42 g); New World Sparrow – 0.4-1.7 oz (12-49 g)

Body and Coloration: Old World sparrows are tiny, rotund, brown, and grey birds possessing short tails and thick beaks. The New World sparrows in the neotropics are much larger, with bold variations of grays, greens, reds, and yellows, while the Nearctic sparrows are smaller, with brown bodies streaked and some head patterns.


Old World sparrows are indigenous to Africa, Asia, and Europe. However, thanks to European settlers, these birds, like the house sparrow, have also spread to other continents.

New World sparrows live in the Americas, with locations ranging from the Arctic tundra of North America to the Southern Cone of South America.

Sparrow Flying

Where do they live

The sparrows of the Old World prefer open habitats like deserts, grasslands, and scrubland. In comparison, New World sparrows live in more varied places like deserts, grasslands, rainforests, temperate forests, and xeric shrublands.

How long do they live

Old World sparrows have an average lifespan of three years, while New World sparrows live for 2-5 years. However, there have been records of both variants living up to 13 years.

What do they eat

Omnivorous in nature, sparrows feed on both insects and seeds. Old World sparrows feed primarily on seeds, but adults and young feed on insects during the breeding season. New World sparrows feed on seeds during the winter and insects during the rest of the year.

Sparrow Bird
Sparrow Pictures


  • Sparrows are diurnal birds, but some have been spotted feeding at night.
  • Flocking behavior is typical, with some forming flocks of their species while others form mixed flocks.
  • Migratory behavior is rare in sparrows, though some birds perform short-range migrations. Notably, species living in higher elevated areas move to lower elevations during the colder seasons.
  • Old World sparrows are known to take regular baths in water or sand. This is a social activity with hundreds of birds participating.
  • Male New World sparrows are known to sing to attract females and ward off intruders, while Old World sparrows only chirp and perform threat displays.


  • Old World sparrows have a bone in their tongue to help them to eat seeds. They also have sharp beaks and a long digestive tract.
  • New World sparrows have evolved to have specialized beaks depending on the type of seeds they feed on. Some species also appear to meet their water requirements from their food.
Baby Sparrow
Sparrow Eggs

How do they reproduce

While most sparrows are monogamous, extra-pair copulation, i.e., mating with someone other than your mate, is frequent. The mating season is variable, depending on food availability and rain. Males try to court a mate by preening their feathers, shaking their wings, and raising their tails. In the New World species case, males try to have sex with as many females as they can and chase off rivals.

Nests are built in places like tree hollows, rock crevices, or similar locations. New World sparrows abandon their nests yearly, while Old World sparrows reuse them.

Sparrows Nest
Sparrow Images

Old World sparrows lay clutches of 1-8 white eggs with dark spots, while New World sparrows lay 3-5 eggs that can vary from blue to tan to white, and the number of spots on them varies from egg to egg. The former undergo an incubation period of 9-16 days while it is 11-14 days for the latter.

Once they hatch, the young are cared for by both parents until they are old enough to fledge. The juveniles reach sexual maturity between 6-12 months.


While most sparrows are classified as “Least Concern” or “LC” by the IUCN, certain species, like the Italian sparrow, are “Vulnerable,” and some, like the Java sparrow, are “Endangered”.

Sparrow – FAQs

1. Do sparrows mate for life?

While species like the house sparrow are known to mate for life, they often have sex outside their pairing.

2. What is a group of sparrows called?

A group of sparrows is called a host.

3. What does a sparrow nest look like?

Depending on the species, the nest of the sparrow can vary greatly. For instance, the house sparrow fills natural depressions like rock crevices or tree holes with dry vegetation, while song sparrows build their nests around tall grasses, which are shaped like cups and made of bark and grass.

4. Why do sparrows take dirt baths?

Taking a dirt bath absorbs the excess oils accumulated by the feathers. Subsequent shaking of the dirt removes these oils, allowing for more aerodynamic flight.

5. How do sparrows survive the winter?

Sparrows stay inside their dense nests during this time and also huddle close to one another for warmth.

Interesting Facts

  • Sparrows have historically been both a help and a hindrance to farmers. While they feed on the insects that infest grains, sparrows also feed on those grains, becoming pests.
  • Due to their perceived lust, Old World sparrows were closely associated with the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite.

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