A Sparrow is a bird that belongs to any of two groups of mostly brownish seed-eating birds that live throughout the world. One group, the Old World Sparrows are native to Eurasia and Africa. The other group, the New World Sparrows, is native to America. Old World Sparrows are related to finches while the New World Sparrows are related to Cardinals and Buntings. The two groups are similar in most ways except for their nesting habits.
Most Sparrows grow from 5 to 7 inches in length. Their bills are short, stout and cone-shaped while their tails are medium length. Their upper parts are usually dark brown, often streaked or mottled with gray and under sides that are white, light brown or buff. Generally, Sparrows inhabit grasslands, shrub or open woods.
Aside from seeds, their diet includes leaves, buds, berries and some insects. New World Sparrows build an open, cup-shaped nest in a bush or low trees and lay from two to three white or pale-blue eggs. Old World species nest chiefly in rock crevices or in holes in trees or building and lay from four to nine speckled- white eggs.
A well-known Old World specie is the Eurasian Tree Sparrow which is common from Central Europe to Japan. It often causes great damage in Asian rice fields by eating large parts of the crop. However, probably the best known Old World Sparrow is the House Sparrow, also known as the English Sparrow. It is native to Eurasia and Northern Africa but has spread throughout the world.
It was due to the insistence of man that the House Sparrow made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. At the time when green-inch worms were destroying trees in New York City, many people thought that the presence of the Sparrows was the solution to the problem. This is because these same green worms comprised the main diet of these birds back in England. Other people thought the House Sparrows can eliminate crop pests while some, specifically the new wave of immigrants from Europe during that time, simply thought it was a good idea to bring in these birds that they are accustomed to seeing in their native country.
Although the eight pairs that were originally released were not able to survive the change in climate, later attempts were successful and the House Sparrow rapidly spread across the United Sates. The over abundance of House Sparrows became a problem in cities as it caused extensive damage to grain crops and fruit trees. The increase in House Sparrow population resulted to the evident decrease in the number of native songbirds. Numerous control methods are being used to deal with the problem.
On the other side is the best known among the American Sparrows – the Song Sparrow. It often nests near houses and can be distinguished from other Sparrows by the heavy brown streaks and large spot on its breast. Another New World specie is the Field Sparrow which has reddish-brown upper parts, a whitish breast and a pink bill.
Sparrows are secretive birds and rarely allow close approach. One way of identifying them is by learning the distinctive song of each specie. Most Sparrows are migratory although some individuals of particular species stay longer through the winter. Wintering varies according to specie with some ranging from British Columbia; others towards the south to the Gulf of Mexico while a few migrate as far as Central America.
Sparrows are classified in the order Passeriformes. The New World Sparrows belong to the family Fringillidae, the Old World Sparrow, on the other hand belong to the family Ploceidae.