Family Old World Sparrows (Passeridae)

Least Concern

Cape Sparrow (Passer melanurus)


French: Moineau mélanure German: Kapsperling Spanish: Gorrión de El Cabo

Loxia melanura

Statius Müller

, 1776,

Cape Town, South Africa


Hybridization with introduced P. domesticus recorded. Race vicinus sometimes subsumed into nominate. Three subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. m. damarensis Reichenow, 1902 – SW Angola (S from Benguela), Namibia, Botswana and SW Zimbabwe S to N South Africa (S to Northern Cape, North West Province and N Limpopo Province); one recent record from extreme SW Mozambique#R.
  • P. m. melanurus (Statius Müller, 1776) – SW South Africa (S Northern Cape and Western Cape E to SW Free State).
  • P. m. vicinus Clancey, 1958 – E South Africa (S Limpopo Province S to E Free State, W KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape), Lesotho and (rare) W Swaziland.
  • Descriptive notes

    14–16 cm; 17–38 g. Male nominate race has entire head down to upper breast black apart from white crescent-shaped band from eye back to nape and then forward to... read more


    Call of male at nest a distinctive, loud and far-carrying "tweeng" or "twilleeng", which can change... read more


    Semi-arid regions with annual rainfall less than 750 mm, from open savanna with trees to light... read more

    Food and feeding

    Primarily seeds, specializing on larger seeds of grasses and cultivated cereals; to lesser extent soft shoots and buds of plants, nectar... read more


    In arid regions an opportunist breeder, depending on rains and associated flush of insects; in cultivated regions more regular pattern,... read more


    Sedentary cultivated and urban areas; nomadic in more arid areas, settling to breed when conditions... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common to locally abundant. Density near Bloemfontein (C South Africa) 152 pairs/100 ha. Has increased in cultivated districts, becoming a pest in... read more

    Recommended citation

    Summers-Smith, D. (2019). Cape Sparrow (Passer melanurus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 13 December 2019).