Family Old World Sparrows (Passeridae)

Least Concern

Great Sparrow (Passer motitensis)


French: Grand Moineau German: Rostsperling Spanish: Gorrión grande
Other common names: Rufous Sparrow, Southern Rufous Sparrow, Great Rufous Sparrow

Pyrgita Motitensis

A. Smith

, 1836,

Hopetown, northern Cape Province; error = Motita, near Old Lakatoo, 135 miles [c. 215 km] north of Orange River, South Africa


Has been considered conspecific with P. iagoensis, P. insularis (with hemileucus), P. cordofanicus, P. shelleyi and P. rufocinctus. Three subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. m. benguellensis Lynes, 1926 – coastal SW Angola and Namibia.
  • P. m. motitensis (A. Smith, 1836) – Botswana and N South Africa (N Northern Cape and North West Province).
  • P. m. subsolanus Clancey, 1964 – SW Zimbabwe and N & C South Africa (Limpopo Province S to N & W Free State).
  • Descriptive notes

    15–16 cm; 26–36 g. One of the largest sparrows, with bill slightly arched. Male nominate race has blue-grey crown and nape, black lores, a crescent-shaped... read more


    Main call a twangy "cheeurr" or "wer-cheerr", fuller and rather deeper in tone... read more


    Dry acacia (Acacia) savanna, frequenting trees; not associated with man.

    Food and feeding

    Seeds of grass and cultivated cereals. Nestling diet is animal food, with caterpillars (Lepidoptera) recorded. Less gregarious than most... read more


    Season Sept–Feb; two broods. Solitary. Nest built by both sexes, free-standing ovoid about the size of a rugby football, domed, with... read more


    Nomadic, with post-breeding dispersal.

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Locally common to uncommon in South Africa; somewhat uncommon elsewhere and generally local. Density in Botswana and N South Africa (N Limpopo... read more

    Recommended citation

    Summers-Smith, D. (2020). Great Sparrow (Passer motitensis). 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 25 January 2020).