A passerine is any bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds or – less accurately – as songbirds, passerines are distinguished from other orders of birds by the arrangement of their toes (three pointing forward and one back), which facilitates perching, amongst other features specific to their evolutionary history in Australaves.
With more than 110 families and some 6,409 identified species, Passeriformes is the largest order of birds and among the most diverse orders of terrestrial vertebrates. Passerines are divided into three clades, Acanthisitti (New Zealand wrens), Tyranni (suboscines) and Passeri (oscine).
The terms "passerine" and "Passeriformes" are derived from the scientific name of the house sparrow, Passer domesticus, and ultimately from the Latin term passer, which refers to sparrows and similar small birds.
|Clockwise from top right: Palestine sunbird (Cinnyris osea), blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata), house sparrow (Passer domesticus), great tit (Parus major), hooded crow (Corvus cornix), southern masked weaver (Ploceus velatus)|
|Song of a purple-crowned fairywren (Malurus coronatus)|
and see text
|Roughly 100 families, 6,409 species|
The order is divided into three suborders, Tyranni (suboscines), Passeri (oscines), and the basal Acanthisitti. Oscines have the best control of their syrinx muscles among birds, producing a wide range of songs and other vocalizations (though some of them, such as the crows, do not sound musical to human beings); some such as the lyrebird are accomplished imitators. The acanthisittids or New Zealand wrens are tiny birds restricted to New Zealand, at least in modern times; they were long placed in Passeri; their taxonomic position is uncertain, although they seem to be a distinct and very ancient group.
Most passerines are smaller than typical members of other avian orders. The heaviest and altogether largest passerines are the thick-billed raven and the larger races of common raven, each exceeding 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) and 70 cm (28 in). The superb lyrebird and some birds-of-paradise, due to very long tails or tail coverts, are longer overall. The smallest passerine is the short-tailed pygmy tyrant, at 6.5 cm (2.6 in) and 4.2 g (0.15 oz).
The foot of a passerine has three toes directed forward and one toe directed backward, called anisodactyl arrangement. This arrangement enables the passerine birds to perch upon vertical surfaces, such as trees and cliffs. The toes have no webbing or joining, but in some cotingas, the second and third toes are united at their basal third. The hind toe joins the leg at the same level as the front toes. The passeriformes have this toe arrangement in common with hunting birds like eagles and falcons.
The leg arrangement of passerine birds contains a special adaptation for perching. A tendon in the rear of the leg running from the underside of the toes to the muscle behind the tibiotarsus will automatically be pulled and tighten when the leg bends, causing the foot to curl and become stiff when the bird lands on a branch. This enables passerines to sleep while perching without falling off.
Most passerine birds develop 12 tail feathers, although the superb lyrebird has 16. Certain species of passerines have stiff tail feathers, which help the birds balance themselves when perching upon vertical surfaces. Some passerines, specifically in the family Ploceidae, are well known for their elaborate sexual ornaments, including extremely long tails. A well-known example is the long-tailed widowbird.
The chicks of passerines are altricial: blind, featherless, and helpless when hatched from their eggs. Hence, the chicks require extensive parental care. Most passerines lay coloured eggs, in contrast with nonpasserines, most of whose eggs are white except in some ground-nesting groups such as Charadriiformes and nightjars, where camouflage is necessary, and in some parasitic cuckoos, which match the passerine host's egg. Vinous-throated parrotbill has two egg colours, white and blue. This can prevent the brood parasitic Common cuckoo.
Clutches vary considerably in size: some larger passerines of Australia such as lyrebirds and scrub-robins lay only a single egg, most smaller passerines in warmer climates lay between two and five, while in the higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, hole-nesting species like tits can lay up to a dozen and other species around five or six. The family Viduidae do not build their own nests, instead, they lay eggs in other birds' nests.
The evolutionary history of the passerine families and the relationships among them remained rather mysterious until the late 20th century. In many cases, 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 Americas and Eurasia; those of Australia; and those of New Zealand look superficially 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 remaining Passeriformes.
Much research remains to be done, but advances in molecular biology and improved paleobiogeographical data gradually are revealing a clearer picture of passerine origins and evolution that reconciles molecular affinities, the constraints of morphology and the specifics of the fossil record. The first passerines are now thought to have evolved in the Southern Hemisphere in the late Paleocene or early Eocene, around 50 million years ago.
The initial split was between the New Zealand wrens (Acanthisittidae) and all other passerines, and the second split involved the Tyranni (suboscines) and the Passeri (oscines or songbirds). The latter experienced a great radiation of forms out of the Australian continent. A major branch of the Passeri, parvorder Passerida, expanded deep into Eurasia and Africa, where a further explosive radiation of new lineages occurred. This eventually led to three major Passerida lineages comprising about 4,000 species, which in addition to the Corvida and numerous minor lineages make up songbird diversity today. Extensive biogeographical mixing happens, with northern forms returning to the south, southern forms moving north, and so on.
Perching bird osteology, especially of the limb bones, is rather diagnostic. However, the early fossil record is poor because the first Passeriformes were apparently on the small side of the present size range, and their delicate bones did not preserve well. Queensland Museum specimens F20688 (carpometacarpus) and F24685 (tibiotarsus) from Murgon, Queensland, are fossil bone fragments initially assigned to Passeriformes. However, the material is too fragmentary and their affinities have been questioned. Several more recent fossils from the Oligocene of Europe that are more complete definitely represent early passeriforms, although their exact position in the evolutionary tree is not known.
From the Bathans Formation at the Manuherikia River in Otago, New Zealand, MNZ S42815 (a distal right tarsometatarsus of a tui-sized bird) and several bones of at least one species of saddleback-sized bird have recently been described. These date from the Early to Middle Miocene (Awamoan to Lillburnian, 19–16 mya).
Modern knowledge about the living passerines' interrelationships (see the list of families below) suggests that the last common ancestor of all living Passeriformes was a small forest bird, probably with a stubby tail and an overall drab coloration, but possibly with marked sexual dimorphism. The latter trait seems to have been lost and re-evolved multiple times in songbird evolution alone, judging from its distribution among the extant lineages. Sexual dichromatism is very rare among the basal lineages of Passerida, and probably their plesiomorphic condition. But among the youngest passerid clade, the Passeroidea, extremely colorful males and drab females are common, if not the rule. On the other hand, among the basalmost Passeri a considerable number of strongly dimorphic lineages exist, too, such as the very ancient Menuridae, as well as many Meliphagoidea and Corvoidea. Sexual dimorphism is also not uncommon in the Acanthisittidae and prominent in some suboscines such as the Pipridae and Cotingidae.
In Europe, perching birds are not too uncommon in the fossil record from the Oligocene onward, but most are too fragmentary for a more definite placement:
Wieslochia was possibly not a member of any extant suborder. That not only the Passeri expanded much beyond their region of origin is proven by an undetermined broadbill (Eurylaimidae) from the Early Miocene (roughly 20 mya) of Wintershof, Germany, and the indeterminant Late Oligocene suboscine from France listed above. Even very basal Passeriformes might have been common in Europe until the Middle Miocene, some 12 mya. Extant Passeri super-families were quite distinct by that time and are known since about 12–13 mya when modern genera were present in the corvoidean and basal songbirds. The modern diversity of Passerida genera is known mostly from the Late Miocene onwards and into the Pliocene (about 10–2 mya). Pleistocene and early Holocene lagerstätten (<1.8 mya) yield numerous extant species, and many yield almost nothing but extant species or their chronospecies and paleosubspecies.
In the Americas, the fossil record is more scant before the Pleistocene, from which several still-existing suboscine families are documented. Apart from the indeterminable MACN-SC-1411 (Pinturas Early/Middle Miocene of Santa Cruz Province, Argentina), an extinct lineage of perching birds has been described from the Late Miocene of California, United States: the Palaeoscinidae with the single genus Paleoscinis. "Palaeostruthus" eurius (Pliocene of Florida) probably belongs to an extant family, most likely passeroidean.
Corvida and Passerida were classified as parvorders in the suborder Passeri; in accord with the usual taxonomic practice, they would probably be ranked as infraorders. As originally envisioned in the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy, they contained, respectively, the large superfamilies Corvoidea and Meliphagoidea, as well as minor lineages, and the superfamilies Sylvioidea, Muscicapoidea, and Passeroidea.
The arrangement has been found to be oversimplified by more recent research. Since the mid-2000s, literally, dozens of studies are being published that try rather successfully to resolve the phylogeny of the passeriform radiation. For example, the Corvida in the traditional sense was a rather arbitrary assemblage of early and/or minor lineages of passeriform birds of Old World origin, generally from the region of Australia, New Zealand, and Wallacea. The Passeri, though, can be made monophyletic by moving some families about, but the "clean" three-superfamily-arrangement has turned out to be far more complex and it is uncertain whether future authors will stick to it.
Major "wastebin" families such as the Old World warblers and Old World babblers have turned out to be paraphyletic and are being rearranged. Several taxa turned out to represent highly distinct species-poor lineages, so new families had to be established, some of them – like the stitchbird of New Zealand and the Eurasian bearded reedling – monotypic with only one living species. In the Passeri alone, a number of minor lineages will eventually be recognized as distinct superfamilies. For example, the kinglets constitute a single genus with less than 10 species today but seem to have been among the first perching bird lineages to diverge as the group spread across Eurasia. No particularly close relatives of them have been found among comprehensive studies of the living Passeri, though they might be fairly close to some little-studied tropical Asian groups. Treatment of the nuthatches, wrens, and their closest relatives as a distinct super-family Certhioidea is increasingly considered justified; the same might eventually apply to the tits and their closest relatives.
This process is still continuing. Therefore, the arrangement as presented here is subject to change. However, it should take precedence over unreferenced conflicting treatments in family, genus, and species articles here.
This list is in taxonomic order, placing related species/groups next to each other. The Passerida subdivisions are updated as needed from the default sequence of the Handbook of the Birds of the World, based on the most modern and comprehensive studies.
The families are sorted into a somewhat novel sequence unlike that in older works, where e.g. Corvidae are placed last. This is because so many reallocations have taken place since about 2005 that a definite taxonomy has not been established yet, although the phylogeny is by and large resolved. The present sequence is an attempt to preserve as much of the traditional sequence while giving priority to adequately addressing the phylogenetic relationships between the families. Based on John Boyd's Taxonomy in Flux Checklist 3.5.
Living Passeriformes based on the "Taxonomy in Flux family phylogenetic tree" by John Boyd.
The Acanthizidae, also known as the Australasian warblers, are a family of passerine birds which include gerygones, thornbills, and scrubwrens. The Acanthizidae consists of small to medium passerine birds, with a total length varying between 8 and 19 centimetres (3.1 and 7.5 in). They have short rounded wings, slender bills, long legs, and a short tail. Most species have olive, grey, or brown plumage, although some have patches of a brighter yellow. The weebill is the smallest species of acanthizid, and the smallest Australian passerine; the largest is the pilotbird.Baby Jay
Baby Jay is one of the mascots of the University of Kansas's sports teams. Baby and best friend Big Jay are Jayhawks. Baby Jay was created by student Amy Sue Hurst and "hatched" at half-time of KU's Homecoming victory in football over Kansas State University on October 9, 1971, and has served as a mascot ever since.Emberizidae
Emberizidae is a family of seed-eating passerine birds with distinctively finch-like bills. In Europe, most species are called buntings. The New World genera formerly considered part of this family are now placed in their own family, Passerellidae. Some other New World genera have been reassigned to the tanager family, Thraupidae.
It was hypothesized that the family Emberizidae may have originated in South America and spread first into North America before crossing into eastern Asia and continuing to move west. However, a DNA sequence-based study of passerines concluded emberizids spread from North to South America. However, all the New World emberizids have been placed in other families.
As with several other passerine families, the taxonomic treatment of this family's members is currently in a state of flux. Many genera in South and Central America are, in fact, more closely related to several different tanager clades.Fair Isle wren
The Fair Isle wren (Troglodytes troglodytes fridariensis) is a small passerine bird in the wren family. It is a subspecies of the Eurasian wren endemic to Fair Isle, Shetland, Scotland. It was first described by Kenneth Williamson in 1951.Grosbeak
Grosbeak is a form taxon containing various species of seed-eating passerine birds with large beaks. Although they all belong to the superfamily Passeroidea, these birds are not part of a natural group but rather a polyphyletic assemblage of distantly related songbirds. Some are cardueline finches in the family Fringillidae, while others are cardinals in the family Cardinalidae; one is a member of the weaver family Ploceidae. The word "grosbeak", first applied in the late 1670s, is a partial translation of the French grosbec, where gros means "large" and bec means "beak".The following is a list of grosbeak species, arranged in groups of closely related genera. These genera are more closely related to smaller-billed birds than to other grosbeaks. The single exception are the three genera of "typical grosbeak finches", which form a group of closest living relatives and might thus be considered the "true" grosbeaks.Heteromyias
Heteromyias is a genus of passerine birds in the Australasian robin family Petroicidae.
The genus was introduced by the English zoologist Richard Bowdler Sharpe in 1879 with the grey-headed robin (Heteromyias cinereifrons) as the type species. The name of the genus combines the Ancient Greek heteros "different" and the Modern Latin myias "flycatcher".The genus contains two species:
Grey-headed robin (Heteromyias cinereifrons)
Ashy robin (Heteromyias albispecularis)Mockingbird
Mockingbirds are a group of New World passerine birds from the Mimidae family. They are best known for the habit of some species mimicking the songs of other birds and the sounds of insects and amphibians, often loudly and in rapid succession. There are about 17 species in three genera. These do not appear to form a monophyletic lineage: Mimus and Nesomimus are quite closely related; their closest living relatives appear to be thrashers, such as the sage thrasher. Melanotis is more distinct because it seems to represent a very ancient basal lineage of Mimidae.The only mockingbird commonly found in North America is the northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). The Greek word polyglottos means multiple languages.Near passerine
Near passerine or higher land-bird assemblage are terms of traditional, pre-cladistic taxonomy that have often been given to tree-dwelling birds or those most often believed to be related to the true passerines (order Passeriformes) due to ecological similarities; the group corresponds to some extent with the Anomalogonatae of Alfred Henry Garrod.Ochthoeca
Ochthoeca is a genus of passerine birds in the family Tyrannidae.
The genus contains eight species:
Slaty-backed chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca cinnamomeiventris
Blackish chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca nigrita
Maroon-belted chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca thoracica
Rufous-breasted chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca rufipectoralis
Brown-backed chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca fumicolor
D'Orbigny's chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca oenanthoides
White-browed chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca leucophrys
Piura chat-tyrant, Ochthoeca piuraeThe genus Ochthoeca formerly included some species that are now placed in the genus Silvicultrix.Passerellidae
The Passerellidae (New World sparrows or American sparrows) are a large family of seed-eating passerine birds with distinctively finch-like bills. The American Ornithological Society split the family from Emberizidae (Old World buntings) in 2017.Penduline tit
The penduline tits constitute a family of small passerine birds, related to the true tits. All but the verdin make elaborate bag nests hanging from trees (whence "penduline", hanging), usually over water.Satinbird
The satinbirds or cnemophilines, are a family, Cnemophilidae of passerine birds which consists of three species found in the mountain forests of New Guinea. They were originally thought to be part of the birds-of-paradise family Paradisaeidae until genetic research suggested that the birds are not closely related to birds-of-paradise at all and are perhaps closer to berry peckers and longbills (Melanocharitidae). The current evidence suggests that their closest relatives may be the cuckoo-shrikes (Campephagidae).Snow bunting
The snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) is a passerine bird in the family Calcariidae. It is an Arctic specialist, with a circumpolar Arctic breeding range throughout the northern hemisphere. There are small isolated populations on a few high mountain tops south of the Arctic region, including the Cairngorms in central Scotland and the Saint Elias Mountains on the southern Alaska-Yukon border, and also Cape Breton Highlands. The snow bunting is the most northerly recorded passerine in the world.Songbird
A songbird is a bird belonging to the clade Passeri of the perching birds (Passeriformes). Another name that is sometimes seen as a scientific or vernacular name is Oscines, from Latin oscen, "a songbird". This group contains 5000 or so species found all over the world, in which the vocal organ typically is developed in such a way as to produce a diverse and elaborate bird song.
Songbirds form one of the two major lineages of extant perching birds, the other being the Tyranni, which are most diverse in the Neotropics and absent from many parts of the world. The Tyranni have a simpler syrinx musculature, and while their vocalizations are often just as complex and striking as those of songbirds, they are altogether more mechanical sounding. There is a third perching bird lineage, the Acanthisitti from New Zealand, of which only two species remain alive today.
Some evidence suggests that songbirds evolved 50 million years ago in the part of Gondwana that later became India, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and Antarctica, before spreading around the world.Sylviidae
Sylviidae is a family of passerine birds that includes the typical warblers, parrotbills, the wrentit, and a number of babblers formerly placed within the Old World babbler family. They are found in Eurasia, Africa, and the west coast of North America.The Dog and the Sparrow
"The Dog and the Sparrow" is a story by the Brothers Grimm, told in their book Kinder- und Hausmärchen as KHM58. The original name is Der Hund und der Sperling.Thrush (bird)
The thrushes are a family, Turdidae, of passerine birds with a worldwide distribution. The family was once much larger before biologists determined the subfamily Saxicolinae, which includes the chats and European robins, were Old World flycatchers. Thrushes are small to medium-sized ground living birds that feed on insects, other invertebrates and fruit. Some unrelated species around the world have been named after thrushes due to their similarity to birds in this family.Treepie
The treepies comprise four closely related genera (Dendrocitta, Crypsirina, Temnurus and Platysmurus) of long-tailed passerine birds in the family Corvidae. There are 11 species of treepie. Treepies are similar to magpies. Most treepies are black, white, gray or brown. They are found in Southeast Asia. They live in tropical forests. They are highly arboreal and rarely come to the ground to feed.Tyranni
The Tyranni (suboscines) are a clade of passerine birds that includes more than 1,000 species, the large majority of which are South American. It is named after the type genus Tyrannus.
These have a different anatomy of the syrinx musculature than the oscines (songbirds of the larger suborder Passeri), hence its common name of suboscines. The available morphological, DNA sequence, and biogeographical data, as well as the (scant) fossil record, agree that these two major passerine suborders are evolutionarily distinct clades.