Leucistic House Sparrow – Does it Look Like a Finch?

Leucistic-Sparrow-on-Snow

I did a post on Garden Walk Garden Talk,  Rare White Bird Sighting – Leucism in Sparrows. You can get information on this condition on my other blog by following the link. The post you are reading here is an interesting post if you want to get involved in a debate…

While looking in my backyard today, the golden sparrow is still visiting my feeders after three years. There have been more of them since this bird has been reproducing. Having them year after year, along with having families is what is more unusual than the coloring itself. Being different from a normal House Sparrow is often the reason for their demise or inability to attract mates. This one is so pretty that I bet it has all the male House Sparrows turning their heads.

Now for the Debate

This raises a question I get all the time doing posts on House Sparrows. Readers write in comments to tell me that House Sparrows are Finches. I always say they are not. Others write in to tell me they want all House Sparrows dead. I basically say they did not arrive here by flying over. “The House Sparrow was introduced into Brooklyn, New York, in 1851.” (source) The blame goes directly to the people who imported them in the first place, so we are basically stuck with them.

Leucistic-Sparrow-1

Are House Sparrows Finches?

There seems there is a misconception or confusion about House Sparrows, where some people believe that they are actually finches. True, they are not related to our Northern native sparrows, or New World Sparrows, Emberizidae, but they are in the class of Old World Sparrows.

I think the confusion is because some do not realize that there are House Finches too – they are not the same bird. The House Sparrow, Passer domestics, is not the House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus. I also think it has to do with beak shape, for a taxonomic ID that makes this a common belief.

Nowhere on Cornell’s All About Birds site did I ever read that House Sparrows are Finches! But …. House Sparrows used to be considered weaver finches, but recent research shows that they are only closely related to them in the family Passeridae, but are not them.  True finches are in the family Fringillida.  Weaver Finches are in the family, Ploceidae. Very confusing too. Older reference material is what perpetuates this common misconception.

Leucistic-Sparrow

Here is some research done by an avid birder.

The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds (originally published in the 50’s, my copy is from 1980) places House Sparrows in the Weaver Finch family but all other references I could find to their taxonomy refer to them as “Old World sparrows”. And National Geographic Complete Birds of North America states; “Old World sparrows are not closley related to New World sparrows in the family Emberizidae. Instead their closest alliance is with the family Ploceidae, in which they were formerly placed.” Ploceidae is the weaver finch family. So, basically, House Sparrows used to be weaver finches but recent research shows that they are only closely related to them. (source)

I tend to believe his conclusion.

Have a nice and safe Thanksgiving. Hope you made it through the snow if you are on the East coast. So is the debate over? I am sure there are those that will never be convinced otherwise.

Leucistic-Sparrow-foraging

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19 Responses to Leucistic House Sparrow – Does it Look Like a Finch?

  1. I’ve never seen or heard of a Golden House Sparrow. Neat!!!

  2. seattlecharlie says:

    The controversy and debate over naming nomenclature made me laugh; I can’t tell you how many times I have seen gardeners and horticulturists become heated and animated over plant names…I suppose I should not be surprised.

  3. Pat says:

    What a beautiful little bird.

  4. David says:

    I think your first photo and last photo in this post are fantastic. Nice work!

  5. My Heartsong says:

    Fascinating looking sparrow.

  6. bittster says:

    I love seeing those odd genetic variations in the most common of birds. There are a few around here that are slightly pied and it’s also an interesting look.
    Didn’t know that about the sparrow vs finch…. I was still under the finch impression so it’s good to know that this is likely changing.

    • donna213 says:

      I have a piebald crow here. It almost looks like a Magpie. I have photos, but never posted it yet. Also two squirrels, one with a white tail, another with odd white patches. Also photos not posted. As per the sparrow/finch, I always knew the House Sparrow as an Old World Sparrow. I guess it is all that birding I do.

  7. I am surprised it is still visiting! Thought perhaps the blonde coloring would make it more likely to be spotted by prey.

    • donna213 says:

      Thank you for commenting, a long time no see! There is quite a few of them now. The white mother had more offspring this year and all were normal looking house sparrows. The gold one produced 2 more gold young and one normal HSP. The year before, the white mother had two white young and some normal HSPs. I only ever now see one white sparrow. I guess all others moved on or where killed. I have been seeing a few gold ones. The color this year is likely from what they were feeding. The first time I saw a gold sparrow, it was lighter in color, but then again, in winter I think the gold ones last year were more pale. I cannot tell if the one I keep seeing is the same, but I would bet it is.

  8. The photos of this bird are very pretty. I was wondering if it’s possible if one of the parents of this bird was an “albino” and this one of the offspring from mating with a non-albino bird.

    • donna213 says:

      Thank you, Sue. No, the mother was not albino, although almost white. She also comes every year, but only in summer. Please see other comments, I mention all that have been here and what they produced.

  9. I wondered how this bird did and now I know…she survived and has had babies…so now you can see lots of these cuties.

  10. Ruby says:

    What a beautiful little house sparrow! It’s nice to hear someone talk about them that doesn’t think they should all be eliminated from the continent. I ended up with one for a pet; not on purpose, it was abandoned and brought to me. They are such clever, social little birds, and like you said, it’s not their fault they ended up here.

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