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Passerines vs. non-passerines

Explanation of the difference between the two orders

As shown in the second-tier header above, bird species are generally subdivided into "passerines" and "non-passerines". Family groups 1-14 comprise the non-passerines, 15 contains semi-passerines and 16-26 comprise the passerines. What is the difference between the two? (Note: There is an equivalent page about passerines and non-passerines spotted in Arabia.)

The answer is quite straight-forward, once one knows the Latin name of the common House Sparrow - "Passer domesticus". Passerines are birds that, like the House Sparrow, have three toes forward, one backward, e.g. when sitting on a perch, non-passerines don't. As a rule of thumb, songbirds are passerines, others are not.

But there are some more subtle rules to this. There is also a distinction by the birds' voice boxes (their "syrinyxes"). There are a number of birds that have a passerine foothold, but a more primitive syrinyx than the true songbirds. These are often called "suboscines" (where true passerines are "oscines") or also "semi-passerines". The only examples of this category in Australia are the Pittas.



Example passerine: Brown Honeyeater Example non-passerine: Australian Bustard
Example passerine foothold: Pied Currawong
- three toes forward, one backward
Example non-passerine foothold: Budgerigar
- two toes forward, two backward

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.