House Sparrow - Systematics - Subspecies


A large number of subspecies have been named, of which twelve were recognised in the Handbook of the Birds of the World. These subspecies are divided into two groups, the Palaearctic domesticus group, and the Oriental indicus group. Several Middle Eastern subspecies, including Passer domesticus biblicus, are sometimes considered a third, intermediate group. The subspecies P. d. indicus was described as a species, and was considered to be distinct by many ornithologists during the nineteenth century.

Migratory birds of the subspecies P. d. bactrianus in the indicus group were recorded overlapping with P. d. domesticus birds without hybridising in the 1970s, so the Soviet scientists Edward I. Gavrilov and M. N. Korelov proposed the separation of the indicus group as a separate species. However, indicus-group and domesticus-group birds intergrade in a large part of Iran, so this split is rarely recognised.

In North America, House Sparrow populations are more differentiated than those in Europe. This variation follows predictable patterns, with birds at higher latitudes being larger and those in arid areas being paler. However, it is not clear how much this is caused by evolution or by environment. Similar observations have been made in New Zealand, and in South Africa. The introduced House Sparrow populations may be distinct enough to merit subspecies status, especially in North America and southern Africa, and American ornithologist Harry Church Oberholser even gave the subspecies name plecticus to the paler birds of western North America.

domesticus group
  • P. d. domesticus, the nominate subspecies, is found in most of Europe, across northern Asia to Sakhalin and Kamchatka. It is the most widely introduced subspecies.
  • P. d. balearoibericus von Jordans, 1923, described from Majorca, is found in the Balearic Islands, southern France, the Balkans, and Anatolia.
  • P. d. tingitanus (Loche, 1867), described from Algeria, is found in the Maghreb from Ajdabiya in Libya to Béni Abbès in Algeria, and to Morocco's Atlantic coast. It hybridises extensively with the Spanish Sparrow, especially in the eastern part of its range.
  • P. d. niloticus Nicoll and Bonhote, 1909, described from Faiyum, Egypt, is found along the Nile north of Wadi Halfa, Sudan. It intergrades with bibilicus in the Sinai, and with rufidorsalis in a narrow zone around Wadi Halfa. It has been recorded in Somaliland.
  • P. d. persicus Zarudny and Kudashev, 1916, described from the Karun River in Khuzestan, Iran, is found in the western and central Iran south of the Alborz mountains, intergrading with indicus in eastern Iran, and Afghanistan.
  • P. d. biblicus Hartert, 1910, described from Palestine, is found in the Middle East from Cyprus and southeastern Turkey to the Sinai in the west and from Azerbaijan to Kuwait in the east.
indicus group
  • P. d. hyrcanus Zarudny and Kudashev, 1916, described from Gorgan, Iran, is found along the southern coast of the Caspian Sea from Gorgan to southeastern Azerbaijan. It intergrades with persicus in the Alborz mountains, and with bibilicus to the west. It is the subspecies with the smallest range.
  • P. d. bactrianus Zarudny and Kudashev, 1916, described from Tashkent, is found in southern Kazakhstan to the Tian Shan and northern Iran and Afghanistan. It intergrades with persicus in Baluchistan and with indicus across central Afghanistan. Unlike most other House Sparrow subspecies, it is almost entirely migratory, wintering in the plains of the northern Indian subcontinent. It is found in open country rather than in settlements, which are occupied by the Eurasian Tree Sparrow in its range. There is an exceptional record from Sudan.
  • P. d. parkini Whistler, 1920, described from Srinagar, Kashmir, is found in the western Himalayas from the Pamir Mountains to southeastern Nepal. It is migratory, like bactrianus.
  • P. d. indicus Jardine and Selby, 1831, described from Bangalore, is found in the Indian subcontinent south of the Himalayas, in Sri Lanka, western Southeast Asia, eastern Iran, and southwestern Arabia as far as southern Israel.
  • P. d. hufufae Ticehurst and Cheeseman, 1924, described from Hofuf in Saudi Arabia, is found in northeastern Arabia.
  • P. d. rufidorsalis C. L. Brehm, 1855, described from Khartoum, Sudan, is found in the Nile valley from Wadi Halfa south to Renk in northern South Sudan, and in eastern Sudan, northern Ethiopia to the Red Sea coast in Eritrea. It has also been introduced to Mohéli in the Comoros.

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