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Southern Grey-headed Sparrow - BirdForum Opus

Non-breeding Adult
Photo by Alan Manson
Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, April 2007

Alternative name: Cape Sparrow (which is usually used for Passer melanurus!)

Passer diffusus


Length 15-16 cm, mass 24 g. The head is grey, the back brown, and the rump is bright rufous and conspicuous in flight. The wings have short, but usually obvious white wingbars. White to pale grey underparts. The eyes, legs and feet are brown, and the bill is black when breeding (horn when not breeding).
P. d. stygiseps is darker above than the nominate with duller breast and flanks.

Similar species

In the northern extremity of its range (north of 19° S), it is easily confused with the very similar Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, which is slightly heavier with a longer tail and longer bill. The Northern Grey-headed Sparrow is also darker, with a less-distinct wing-bar.

Breeding Adult
Photo by Alan Manson
Cedara Farm, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, September 2007


South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, southern Malawi, south-western Angola and southeast Tanzania.
Common and widespread over most of its range.


Usually four, sometimes only two subspecies accepted:

Forms a superspecies with Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Swainson's Sparrow, Parrot-billed Sparrow and Swahili Sparrow. All are often treated as conspecific.


Savanna woodland and plantation edges. Often found near settlements and in cropping areas.


Often solitary or in pairs, but can congregate in flocks of up to 200 in winter. Forages on the ground, often in mixed-species flocks of seed-eaters. Walks and hops. Food is mainly seeds, but also small fruit, nectar and insects.
Breeds in all months of year, coinciding with local rains. A solitary breeder, sometimes also in loose colonies. The nest is made of dry grass and placed in a hole in a tree or a building. Competes with introduced House Sparrow for nest-sites. Lays 2 - 5 eggs.


  1. Clements, JF. 2009. The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World. 6th ed., with updates to December 2009. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0801445019.
  2. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliott, and D Christie, eds. 2009. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 14: Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8496553507
  3. Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ & Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Robert's Birds of Southern Africa, 7th edition. Cape Town: John Voelcker Bird Book Fund. ISBN 0620340533

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