Afghan snowfinch

The Afghan snowfinch (Pyrgilauda theresae) is a passerine bird of the sparrow family Passeridae, endemic to the northern parts of the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan. There are no major threats to the species despite its restricted range, so it is assessed as least concern on the IUCN Red List. This species is mostly a seed-eater, supplementing its diet with some insects. It builds its nest in the burrows or hollows of ground-dwelling rodents, lined with hair or feathers.

Afghan snowfinch
Illustration of a male (left) and a female (right)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Passeridae
Genus: Pyrgilauda
P. theresae
Binomial name
Pyrgilauda theresae
  • Montifringilla theresae R. Meinzertzhagen, 1937

Taxonomy and systematics

This species was first scientifically recorded relatively late, by Richard Meinertzhagen on a 1937 expedition with Salim Ali. Meinertzhagen formally described the species in Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club paper later that year, and gave it the binomial name Montifringilla theresae. He reported that he collected the type specimen of the species in the Shibar Pass, between Bamyan and Kabul.[3][4] The name he gave the species was after his cousin and companion, Theresa Clay, an expert on bird lice.[5] While Meinertzhagen described several dozen species and subspecies (including others named after Clay), he was later found to have stolen specimens and falsified records, and this may be the only verifiably genuine taxon he described.[6]

Meinertzhagen placed this species in the genus Montifringilla, which some classifications continue to place it in, along with about eight species of 'snowfinches'.[3] Among these species, it is most similar to Blanford's snowfinch, which has similar plumage and essentially the same nesting habits.[7] Some authors split this species, Blanford's snowfinch, and the other snowfinches of southern and central Asia as the genus Pyrgilauda,[8] on the basis that their morphological traits, as well as habitat and ecology, are substantially different.[9] (This is an arbitrary distinction, as there can be little doubt that Montifringilla in the broad sense is monophyletic.) One of the more prominent works to follow this classification recently, the Handbook of the Birds of the World, called the species of their genus Pyrgilauda 'ground-sparrows', on account of their different habitat and behaviour from the northern 'snowfinches'. No subspecies have been described.[2]

Alternative names for the Afghan snowfinch include Afghan ground-sparrow, bar-tailed snowfinch, Meinertzhagen's snowfinch, and Theresa's snowfinch.


It is 13.5–15 centimetres (5.3–5.9 in) long, weighing 23–35 grams (0.81–1.23 oz). The wingspan ranges from 8.5 to 9.9 cm (3.3–3.9 in), and bills measure from 1.3 to 1.5 cm (0.51–0.59 in). Females are slightly smaller on average than males.[3]

The male is grey-brown with some white in the wings and a black face-mask and two-pronged patch on the throat. The female is a buff-tinged brown, with a weaker, greyer face mask and less white in the wings. There are short dark streaks on the mantle and a white subterminal band on the tail feathers other than the central pair. There is white on the upperwing coverts, secondaries, and inner primaries. The male has a brick red iris.[3][10] The plumage of juvenile birds after fledging has not been described, but can be assumed to be similar to the female's plumage.[3]

The only similar species that occur in the Afghan snowfinch's range are the white-winged snowfinch and the desert finch. It can be distinguished from the former by the smaller white patches on the wings and an overall more brownish plumage. While it is similar in general appearance to the latter species, the Afghan snowfinch is more streaked, has stronger facial markings, and has a smaller bill, among other differences.[3]

The flight of the Afghan snowfinch is heavy and straight. The alarm call is a sharp tsi, and they make soft quaak calls in flight, and a stridulant zig-zig.[10]

Distribution and habitat

The Afghan snowfinch is the only species of bird known to be endemic to Afghanistan.[11] It is found only in some northern parts of the Hindu Kush mountains, where it occurs at elevations of 2,575–3,000 m (8,450–9,840 ft). Besides the Shibar Pass, it is known from Deh Sabz and Unai Pass, and a few other localities between 67° and 69° E in the northerly ranges of the Hindu Kush. This species disperses in the winter especially after heavy snowfalls, and moves slightly beyond its breeding range, into lower altitudes and northwards into Badghis Province. It has been recorded on occasion as a vagrant in southern Turkmenistan.[1][3][12] Its habitats are stony mountain slopes, plateaux, and open hillsides in the passes.[3]

Despite having a relatively small range and population, it is not thought to have an unstable population or significant threats, so it is assessed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List.[1] This species is among those protected by Band-e Amir National Park, Afghanistan's first national park, which encompasses a large area of the Hindu Kush near Bamyan.[13][14]

Behaviour and ecology

In winter, the Afghan snowfinch forms large flocks of dozens or hundreds, sometimes mixed with snowfinches of other species, rock sparrows, and various larks. This species feeds mostly on small seeds, from plants such as Carex pachystylis, Convolvulus divaricatus, and Thuspeinantha persica, and it will also eat insects such as ants and weevils.[3][7]

The Afghan snowfinch builds nests in the burrows and hollows made by rodents, including ground squirrels, marmots, and in one recorded case Williams' jerboa (Allactaga williamsi). In particular, it is associated with the yellow ground squirrel (Spermophilus fulvus). Several of the other southern snowfinch species have similar nesting preferences, as does at least one species that occurs in the Afghan snowfinch's range, the isabelline wheatear. The materials used to line the burrows it nests in are the hairs of squirrels, sheep, and dromedaries; and feathers.[10][7] Nests are built at the far end of the burrows, as protection from predators. The young hatch blind and helpless, with exposed pink skin and only a few, light-coloured tufts of down. Young give a soft call in response to adults calling at the entrance of a nest.[7]


  1. ^ a b c BirdLife International (2012). "Pyrgilauda theresae". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ a b Summers-Smith, J. Denis (2009). "Family Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)". In del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Christie, David (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 14: Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-84-96553-50-7.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Clement, Harris & Davis 1993, pp. 481–482
  4. ^ Meinertzhagen, R. (1938). "On the Birds of Northern Afghanistan". Ibis. 80 (3): 480–520. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1938.tb00579.x.
  5. ^ Boelens & Watkins 2003, p. 337.
  6. ^ Seabrook, John (29 May 2006). "Ruffled Feathers" (PDF). The New Yorker. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 July 2014. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  7. ^ a b c d Niethammer, G. (1967). "On the Breeding Biology of Montifringilla theresae". Ibis. 109 (1): 117–118. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1967.tb00010.x.
  8. ^ Mlíkovský, Jirí (1998). "Generic name of southern snowfinches" (PDF). Forktail. 14: 85. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 February 2012.
  9. ^ Lei, Fu-Min; Wang, Ai-Zhen; Wang, Gang; Yin, Zuo-Hua (2005). "Vocalizations of red-necked snow finch, Pyrgilauda ruficollis on the Tibetan Plateau, China – a syllable taxonomic signal?" (PDF). Folia Zoologica. 54 (1–2): 135–146. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-04-12. Retrieved 2014-09-02.
  10. ^ a b c Rasmussen & Anderton 2005, p. 578
  11. ^ Redford, K. H. (2012). "Introduction: Future States of the Wild". In Fearn, Eva (ed.). State of the Wild 2010-2011: A Global Portrait. Island Press. p. 2. ISBN 9781610911580.
  12. ^ Dementiev, G. (1963). "Theresa's Ground Finch Montifringilla theresae". Ibis. 105 (1): 107. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1963.tb02479.x.
  13. ^ Revkin, Andrew C. (22 April 2009). "Afghanistan: The First National Park". The New York Times. New York. p. A10. Retrieved 1 September 2014.
  14. ^ Busuttil, Simon; Aye, Raffael (2009). "Ornithological surveys in Bamiyan province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan". Sandgrouse. 31 (2): 146–159.

Works cited

  • Boelens, Bo; Watkins, Michael (2003). Whose Bird?: Common Bird Names and the People They Commemorate. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10359-X.
  • Clement, Peter; Harris, Alan; Davis, John (1993). Finches and Sparrows: an Identification Guide. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03424-9.
  • Rasmussen, P. C.; Anderton, J.C. (2005). Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. 2. Smithsonian Institution & Lynx Edicions.

External links

List of birds by common name

In this list of birds by common name, a total of 9,722 extant and recently extinct bird species are recognised, belonging to a total of 204 families.

List of birds of Afghanistan

This is a list of the bird species recorded in Afghanistan. The avifauna of Afghanistan include a total of 131 species, of which one is endemic, one has been introduced by humans, and two are rare or accidental. Of the species in Afghanistan, 17 species are globally threatened.

This list's taxonomic treatment (designation and sequence of orders, families and species) and nomenclature (common and scientific names) follow the conventions of The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World, 6th edition. The family accounts at the beginning of each heading reflect this taxonomy, as do the species counts found in each family account. Introduced and accidental species are included in the total counts for Afghanistan.

The following tags have been used to highlight several categories. The commonly occurring native species do not fall into any of these categories.

(A) Accidental - a species that rarely or accidentally occurs in Afghanistan

(E) Endemic - a species that occurs in Afghanistan and nowhere else

(I) Introduced - a species introduced to Afghanistan as a consequence, direct or indirect, of human actions

List of birds of Asia

The birds of Asia are diverse.

The taxonomy of this list adheres to James Clements' Birds of the World: A Checklist, 6th edition. Taxonomic changes are on-going. As more research is gathered from studies of distribution, behaviour, and DNA, the order and number of families and species may change. Furthermore, different approaches to ornithological nomenclature have led to concurrent systems of classification (see Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy).

The area covered by this list corresponds with the Asian listing area as defined by the American Birding Association[1]. The area includes Russia east of the Ural River and Ural Mountains and the Russian Arctic islands east of but not including Novaya Zemlya, as well as Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey (except for the portion north of the Bosporus, Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles) and Cyprus. The area is separated from Africa by the Suez Canal. In the Indian Ocean it includes Sri Lanka, Lakshadweep (the Laccadive Islands), the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but does not include Socotra (Africa), the Maldives, the Chagos Archipelago and Christmas Island (all Indian Ocean). It includes the Russian islands in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. Japan, the Izu Islands (except Nampo Shoto and the Daitō Islands), the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and most of Indonesia. In Indonesia, the dividing line between Asia and Australasia runs through the Banda and Molucca Seas with Sulawesi, Banggai and Talaud on the Asian side, and the islands of Kai, Ceram, Buru, the Sula Group and Morotai on the Australasian side.

List of birds of Tajikistan

This is a list of the bird species recorded in Tajikistan. The avifauna of Tajikistan include a total of 353 species, none of which are introduced, accidental or endemic.This list's taxonomic treatment (designation and sequence of orders, families and species) and nomenclature (common and scientific names) follow the conventions of The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World, 6th edition. The family accounts at the beginning of each heading reflect this taxonomy, as do the species counts found in each family account.

List of birds of Turkmenistan

This is a list of the bird species recorded in Turkmenistan. The avifauna of Turkmenistan include a total of 409 species, of which one is rare or accidental.

This list's taxonomic treatment (designation and sequence of orders, families and species) and nomenclature (common and scientific names) follow the conventions of The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World, 6th edition. The family accounts at the beginning of each heading reflect this taxonomy, as do the species counts found in each family account. Accidental species are included in the total species count for Turkmenistan.

The following tags have been used to highlight several categories. The commonly occurring native species do not fall into any of these categories.

(A) Accidental - a species that rarely or accidentally occurs in Turkmenistan

List of least concern birds

As of May 2019, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 8405 least concern avian species. 76% of all evaluated avian species are listed as least concern.

No subpopulations of birds have been evaluated by the IUCN.

This is a complete list of least concern avian species evaluated by the IUCN. Where possible common names for taxa are given while links point to the scientific name used by the IUCN.

Pamela C. Rasmussen

Pamela Cecile Rasmussen (born October 16, 1959) is a prominent American ornithologist and expert on Asian birds. She was formerly a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and is based at the Michigan State University. She is associated with other major centers of research in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Rasmussen's early research investigated South American seabirds and fossil birds from North America. She later specialised in Asian birds describing several new species and clarifying the status of others, particularly white-eyes and owls. More recently, she has been involved in large scale collaborations looking at patterns of global biodiversity, and has assessed the taxonomic status of South Asian vultures.

She was the main author of Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide, a landmark publication due to its greater geographical and species coverage compared to its predecessors. As a result of her study of museum bird specimens when researching for the book, she was instrumental in unveiling the extent of the theft from museums and fraudulent documentation perpetrated by eminent British ornithologist Richard Meinertzhagen.


Pyrgilauda is a genus of passerine birds in the sparrow family Passeridae. They are found in the Himalayas, Tibet and western China.

The genus was introduced by the French naturalist Jules Verreaux in 1871 with Père David's snowfinch as the type species. The name is a portmanteau of the genera Pyrgita Cuvier 1817, "sparrow", and Alauda Linnaeus, 1758, "lark".The genus contains four species:

These species are sometimes included in the genus Montifringilla.

Richard Meinertzhagen

Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, CBE, DSO (3 March 1878 – 17 June 1967) was a British soldier, intelligence officer and ornithologist. He had a decorated military career spanning Africa, where he was credited with creating and executing the infamous Haversack Ruse. While early biographies lionized Meinertzhagen as a master of military strategy and espionage, later works such as The Meinertzhagen Mystery present him as a fraud for fabricating stories of his feats and speculated he was also a murderer. The discovery of stolen museum bird specimens resubmitted as original discoveries had raised serious doubts on a number of scores as to the veracity of ornithological records he claimed as well.

Sibley-Monroe checklist 17

The Sibley-Monroe checklist was a landmark document in the study of birds. It drew on extensive DNA-DNA hybridisation studies to reassess the relationships between modern birds.


Sparrows are a family of small passerine birds. They are also known as true sparrows, or Old World sparrows, names also used for a particular genus of the family, Passer. They are distinct from both the American sparrows, in the family Passerellidae, and from a few other birds sharing their name, such as the Java sparrow of the family Estrildidae. Many species nest on buildings and the house and Eurasian tree sparrows, in particular, inhabit cities in large numbers, so sparrows are among the most familiar of all wild birds. They are primarily seed-eaters, though they also consume small insects. Some species scavenge for food around cities and, like gulls or rock doves will happily eat virtually anything in small quantities.

Theresa Clay

Theresa Rachel "Tess" Clay (7 February 1911 – 17 March 1995) was an English entomologist. She was introduced to zoology by her older relative, the ornithologist and adventurer Richard Meinertzhagen, with whom she had a very close and unusual relationship. She became the world's expert on Mallophaga, or chewing lice; however, her work is cast into question by her probable role in Meinertzhagen's many scientific frauds. During and immediately after World War II, she worked at MI5.

Sparrows (family: Passeridae)

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