RAINBIRDER Photo galleries
Tom Grey's Bird Pictures
Tom Merigan’s Photo Galleries
Other pictures and text by Nicole Bouglouan
THE HANDBOOK OF BIRD IDENTIFICATION FOR EUROPE AND THE WESTERN PALEARCTIC by Mark Beaman, Steve Madge - C.Helm - ISBN: 0713639601
L’ENCYCLOPEDIE MONDIALE DES OISEAUX - Dr Christopher M. Perrins - BORDAS - ISBN: 2040185607
SPARROWS AND BUNTINGS – Clive Byers - Houghton Mifflin Company - ISBN: 03957387
Family Emberizidae belongs to the huge Order Passeriformes.
The origins of these birds are in South America. Little by little, they moved northwards, first to Central America, then into North America, before to continue to the West for reaching Eurasia through Bering Strait. Asia has great diversity of species, but these birds are rarer in West Europe and Africa.
Central and North America gather numerous species, but West Europe only has about 12 species for France and North Africa, and about 23-24 species for the African continent.
Emberizidae gather several species such as Cardinals, Juncos, Towhees, and American Sparrows too. They are very similar to the Old World’s Sparrows and Finches, but they are not closely related with them.
Finches belong to the Fringillidae Family, and Sparrows to the Passeridae Family. Both are native of the Old World, whereas Emberizidae are native of the New World.
Emberizidae usually have longer tail and contrasted head pattern. In addition, they nest fairly low into vegetation, even on the ground, whereas Fringillidae and Passeridae nest higher above the ground.
This family gathers mainly small-sized birds. They are seed-eaters, often seen on the ground. They have strong legs to forage under bushes and among vegetation.
The conical bill is well adapted to their diet and allows them to consume all kinds of seeds. During the nesting period, young are fed first with insects.
Emberizidae species frequent open areas in the most part of the range. Some species live in reedbeds and tundra. But they are mainly seen in scrub, or along the cultivated areas, in woodlands, marshes or lands with scattered trees and bushes. These birds often form small groups outside the breeding season.
Plumage may be variable; some species have dull colours, brown or grey, as several Sparrows species.
And finally, other birds show contrasted colours such as black, white, chestnut and pinkish. We can find this kind of plumage in towhees, juncos and some cardinals.
Numerous sparrows have heavily streaked body plumage, with conspicuous head pattern, and colourful feathers, making them different from the Old World’s sparrows which often are duller with more uniform plumage.
Male and female usually are very different. Female is duller than male. The juvenile resembles female with in addition, a heavily streaked plumage until the next spring.
In winter plumage, both sexes are very similar.
Songs are variable, but the most usual are scratchy and rattling.
Song takes part to courtship displays and is used to attract females and to establish the territory.
Displays by males vary and often occur on the ground or in low branch. He displays in front of the female with dropped wings and raised tail. Some mates may rub their bills, or the male performs aerial chases of female, or brings her nest materials. We also observe courtship feeding by male.
Northern Cardinal male performing courtship feeding to female
Almost all these species nest on the ground or fairly low, well hidden into vegetation. Nest is an open cup, often built by female with twigs, rootlets and other plant materials.
She usually lays 4-6 pale eggs, whitish, brownish or pale blue, with reddish, brownish or blackish markings. Incubation lasts about 10 to 14 days, mainly by female, but sometimes, the male brood the eggs for short moments. Young are reared by both parents, and leave the nest about 10 to 15 days later.
During the nesting period, the male defends the territory and protects young and female. One to three broods per season are usual.
The American sparrows migrate southwards in winter, whereas other members of this family are resident in their range, or only perform some local dispersions after the breeding period.
The European sparrows often are sedentary in their range, except the birds of the northernmost populations which migrate to more temperate regions in winter.
Emberizidae have relatively stable numbers. However, they are threatened by changes in several types of habitat, such as heavy deforestation and drainage of wetlands, but also by pesticides, and predation by birds of prey taking young at nest, and even adults. Others are preyed upon by domestic cats.
We enjoy the presence of these pretty songbirds with beautiful plumage during our rambles. It is always pleasant to admire their colourful feathers crossing the track above our heads.
We hope to see them for long time in the Nature!