Southern Grey-headed Sparrow (Passer diffusus)

Cover image by Gregg Darling – BirdPix 20396


As its name suggests the Grey-headed Sparrow has a grey head and face with pale grey underparts. Its wings are reddish-brown and darker brown towards the wing tips. It has a distinctive white spot on its shoulders and a white patch under its tail. Males and females are alike. When breeding their bills turn black.

Main photo – BirdPix 29710 – Gregg & Desire Darling, Oyster Bay, Eastern Cape, 18 September 2016. Inset photo – BirdPix  82313 – Anthony Archer, Klerskdorp, North West Province, 22 June 2019.


The Southern Grey-headed Sparrow occurs from western and southern Angola through Zambia to southern Africa, where it is fairly common across much of the region, excluding the arid west of Namibia and the arid parts of South Africa. In South Africa it is most common towards the eastern half of the country.

SABAP2 distribution map for Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, downloaded 07 November 2022. Details for map interpretation can be found here.


It generally prefers savanna woodland, especially with Acacia trees. It also occupies dry broad-leaved woodland, plantation edges, cultivated land and gardens.

BirdPix 234590 – Johan van Rooyen, Namutoni Camp, Etosha National Park, Namibia, 17 June 2022.


Southern Grey-headed Sparrows eat seeds, fruit, nectar and insects, doing most of their foraging on the ground. They are often in flocks with other granivorous (seed-eating) birds.

At the bird feeder – BirdPix 230695 – Pamela Kleinman, Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal, 08 July 2022.

Breeding season is from September to June, peaking from about December to April. The nest is built by both sexes. It consists of a simple pad of grass, leaf petioles, weed stems, hair, and feathers. The nest is typically placed in a tree cavity, or in a hole in a wall, a hollow fence post, nest box, under the eaves of a building, or in an old swallow or swift nest.

The chicks are brooded and fed by both adults on a diet of insects. The chicks leave the nest after about 16-19 days. The fledglings remain dependent on their parents for about 14-21 days more, but they still roost in the nest for a further 13-20 days.

Adult with chick – BirdPix 238874 – Lia Steen, Shellybeach, KwaZulu-Natal, 26 October 2022.

Further Resources

Species text from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

More common names: Gryskopmossie (Afrikaans); Serobele (South Sotho); Moineau sud-africain (French); Graukopfsperling (German).

Recommended citation format: Loftie-Eaton M and Daniel KA 2022. Southern Grey-headed Sparrow Passer diffusus. Bird Feeder Project. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at

Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
The Bird Feeder Project is a BDI citizen science initiative involving school learners and youth eco-clubs. Learners are taught a scientific protocol for doing 10-minute watches and recording the species they see, in the order they see them. The Bird Feeder Project includes an online identification guide to about 30 of the species seen in gardens in Cape Town. Students will learn how to upload their cellphone photos into the BirdPix section of the Virtual Museum, where they will be curated for posterity. The 10-minute watches will rapidly grow into a valuable monitoring database. Karis Daniel is the Project Coordinator and put together the identification guide, Megan Loftie-Eaton helped with the species texts.