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House Sparrow(Passer domesticus)
House Sparrow
(Passer domesticus)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Linnaeus, 1758

A passerine is a bird of the giant order Passeriformes. More than half of all species of bird are passerines. Sometimes known as perching birds or, less accurately, as songbirds, the passerines are one of the most spectacularly successful vertebrate orders: with around 5,400 species, they are roughly twice as diverse as the largest of the mammal orders, the Rodentia.

The group gets its name from the Latin name for the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus).



Many passerines are songbirds and have complex muscles to control their syrinx; many gape in the nest as infants to beg for food.

The order is divided into two suborders, Tyranni, and Passeri (oscines). Oscines have the most control of their syrinx muscles and are true songbirds (though some of them, such as the crows, do not sound like it).

Most passerines are smaller than typical members of other avian orders. The largest passerine is the Thick-billed Raven (although the Lyrebird is longer).

The foot of a passerine has three toes directed forward without any webbing or joining, and one toe directed backward. The hind toe joins the leg at the same level as the front toes. In other orders of birds the toe arrangement is different.

Most passerines lay coloured eggs, in contrast to non-passerines, where the colour is white except in some ground nesting groups such as Charadriiformes and nightjars, where camouflage is necessary, and some parasitic cuckoos which have to match the passerine host's egg.


The evolutionary history of and relationships among the passerine families remained rather mysterious until around the end of the 20th century. Many passerine families were grouped together on the basis of morphological similarities that, it is now believed, are the result of convergent evolution, not a close genetic relationship. For example, the "wrens" of the northern hemisphere, of Australia, and of New Zealand all look very similar and behave in similar ways, and yet belong to three far-flung branches of the passerine family tree: they are as unrelated as it is possible to be while yet remaining Passeriformes.

Much research remains to be done, but a series of biochemical studies are gradually revealing a clearer picture of passerine origins and evolution. It is now thought that the early passerines evolved in Gondwana at about the time that the southern supercontinent was breaking up. This led to the Tyranni and, a little later, to a great radiation of forms in Australia-New Guinea (the Passeri or songbirds). A major branch of the passerine tree, the Passerida (or sparrow-like forms), emerged either as the sister group to the basal lineages ("Corvida"), or more likely as a subgroup of it, and reached the northern hemisphere, where there was a further explosive radiation of new species. Since then, there has been extensive mixing, with northern forms returning to the south, southern forms moving north, and so on.

Taxonomy of passerines

This list is in taxonomic order, placing related species/groups next to each other. For missing families.

Note that as of 2006, several studies have appeared which if validated will revolutionize the phylogeny presented here. For example, the Corvida as presented here are as far as anyone can tell a rather arbitrary assemblage of early and minor lineages of passeriform birds of Old World origin.

    • Suborder Tyranni
      • Tyrannidae: tyrant flycatchers
        Pittidae: pittas
        Eurylaimidae: broadbills
        Furnariidae: ovenbirds and woodcreepers
        Thamnophilidae: antbirds
        Formicariidae: antpittas and antthrushes
        Conopophagidae: gnateaters
        Rhinocryptidae: tapaculos
        Cotingidae: cotingas
        Pipridae: manakins
        Philepittidae: asities
        Acanthisittidae: New Zealand wrens
    • Suborder Passeri (Corvida)
      • Menuridae: lyrebirds
        Atrichornithidae: scrub birds
        Climacteridae: Australian treecreepers
        Maluridae: fairy-wrens, emu-wrens and grasswrens
        Meliphagidae: honeyeaters and chats
        Promeropidae: sugarbirds
        Pardalotidae: pardalotes, scrubwrens, thornbills, and gerygones
        Petroicidae: Australian robins
        Orthonychidae: logrunners
        Pomatostomidae: Australasian babblers
        Cinclosomatidae: whipbirds and allies
        Neosittidae: sittellas
        Pachycephalidae: whistlers, shrike-thrushes, pitohuis and allies
        Dicruridae: monarch flycatchers and allies
        Campephagidae: cuckoo shrikes and trillers
        Oriolidae: orioles and Figbird
        Artamidae: wood swallows, butcherbirds, currawongs and Australian Magpie
        Paradisaeidae: birds of paradise
        Corvidae: crows, ravens and jays
        Corcoracidae: White-winged Chough and Apostlebird
        Irenidae: fairy-bluebirds
        Laniidae: shrikes
        Prionopidae: helmetshrikes.
        Malaconotidae: puffback shrikes, bush shrikes, tchagras and boubous
        Vireonidae: vireos
        Vangidae: vangas
        Ptilonorhynchidae: bowerbirds
        Turnagridae: Piopio
        Callaeidae: New Zealand wattlebirds
    • Suborder Passeri (Passerida)
      • Alaudidae: larks
        Chloropseidae: leafbirds
        Aegithinidae: ioras
        Picathartidae: rockfowl
        Bombycillidae: waxwings and allies
        Dulidae: palmchat
        Ptilogonatidae: silky flycatchers
        Cinclidae: dippers
        Motacillidae: wagtails and pipits
        Prunellidae: accentor
        Melanocharitidae: berrypeckers and longbills
        Paramythiidae: tit berrypecker and crested berrypeckers
        Passeridae: true sparrows
        Urocynchramidae: Przewalski's Finch
        Estrildidae: estrildid finches (waxbills, munias, etc)
        Parulidae: New World warblers
        Thraupidae: tanagers and allies
        Peucedramidae: Olive Warbler
        Fringillidae: true finches
        Cardinalidae: cardinals
        Ploceidae: weavers
        Drepanididae: Hawaiian honeycreepers
        Emberizidae: buntings and American sparrows
        Nectariniidae: sunbirds
        Dicaeidae: flowerpeckers
        Mimidae: mockingbirds and thrashers
        Sittidae: nuthatches
        Certhiidae: treecreepers
        Rhabdornithidae: Philippine creepers
        Troglodytidae: wrens
        Polioptilidae: gnatcatchers
        Paridae: tits, chickadees and titmice
        Aegithalidae: long-tailed tits
        Remizidae: penduline tits
        Hirundinidae: swallows and martins
        Regulidae: kinglets
        Pycnonotidae: bulbuls
        Coerebidae: Bananaquit
        Sylviidae: Old World warblers
        Hypocoliidae: Hypocolius
        Icteridae: grackles, New World blackbirds, and New World orioles
        Cisticolidae: cisticolas and allies
        Zosteropidae: White-eyes
        Paradoxornithidae: Parrotbills
        Timaliidae: babblers
        Muscicapidae: Old World flycatchers and chats
        Platysteiridae: wattle-eyes or puffback flycatchers
        Turdidae: thrushes and allies
        Sturnidae: starlings

See also

  • list of birds

| Up
| Extinct birds
| Suborders of birds
| Parvorders of birds
| Superfamilies of birds
| Bird families
| Subfamilies of birds
| Tribes of birds
| Passeriformes
| Carinatae

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