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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 are equivalent pages about passerines and non-passerines spotted in Europe and 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: Bush Stone-curlew
- no hind toe
Example passerine foothold: Australian Magpie
- 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. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

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