The Cape Sparrow is a small, boldly patterned bird which is sexually dimorphic; in other words, males and females look different to one another. The key differences are in their heads: males have black heads with a broad white ‘c’ shape running from the eyes to the throat, and in females, the head is grey, and the white ‘c’ less distinct.
Though facial colouration and pattern separate the two, both male and female sparrows have pale grey bellies, dark blackish bills, and a rich chestnut-brown rump and wings.
Cape Sparrows are vocal, and as for many birds their repertoire consists of variations on three basic types of sound: song, contact call, and alarm.
You can listen to each by clicking on the links above.
Cape Sparrows eat a wide range of foods, and so are able to inhabit a variety of habitat types. They are common and often abundant in dry savanna, dry, shrubby woodland, agricultural land and orchards, as well as residential gardens and parks. These birds cope well in human environments and are often regular visitors to garden birdseed feeders. Within the Western Cape, Cape Sparrows may also be seen foraging in the intertidal zone along coastlines.
The SABAP2 distribution map for Cape Sparrow shows just how widespread these birds are!
Though common across most of southern Africa, they are considered near-endemic. An endemic species is found only in southern Africa, and nowhere else in the world; a near-endemic species is almost confined to southern Africa, with a few populations along or just outside of border lines. The Cape Sparrow occurs sparsely in parts of Botswana and southern Zimbabwe, as well as the southwest of Angola.
Though sparrow behaviour and interactions are fascinating to explore, we will limit our scope to behaviours which are relevant to finding or identifying Cape Sparrows.
Cape Sparrows are gregarious, meaning that they are usually in pairs or groups.
They often perch conspicuously on top of things—fence posts, bushes, trees, or rooftops. On the ground, rather than walking, they commonly use a “hopping” gait characteristic of many sparrows.
Cape Sparrows usually nest in colonies, with males and females working together to build messy, globe-shaped nests lined with feathers. Nest colonies are common in bushes and trees (often acacias), and within urban environments, individual nests may be built on infrastructure such as fence posts and gables.
Species text in the first bird atlas (1997)
Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name)
More common names: Gewone Mossie (Afrikaans); Moineau mélanure (French); Kapsperling (German); Passero del Capo (Italian); Gorrión de El Cabo (Spanish)
Recommended citation format: Daniel KA 2021. Cape Sparrow Passer melanurus. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at https://thebdi.org/2021/06/17/cape-sparrow-passer-melanurus/