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Sparrows and Buntings

Biology Of Sparrows And Buntings, Sparrows And Buntings In North America, Sparrows And Buntings Elsewhere

The typical sparrows, buntings, and their allies are 281 species of birds that comprise the subfamily Emberizinae, family Emberizidae. The emberizid sparrows and buntings occur in a great variety of habitats, and are widely distributed, occurring on all of the habitable continents except for Southeast Asia and Australia. The greatest diversity of species, however, occurs in the Americas.

The phylogenetic relationships within the family Emberizidae are complex and incompletely understood, and its systematics have been subject to recent revisions. The Emberizidae is now considered by most ornithologists to contain the following subfamilies: (1) the Emberizinae, containing typical sparrows and buntings; (2) the Parulinae, or American wood-warblers; (3) the Thraupinae, or tanagers; (4) the Cardinalinae, or cardinals and typical grosbeaks, (5) the Icterinae, or American blackbirds, meadowlarks, orioles, bobolink, and cowbirds, and (6) the Coerebinae, or bananaquits.

However, this taxonomic arrangement remains controversial, and some ornithologists and many textbooks and field guides continue to rank each of these groups as full families. Nevertheless, these are all distinctive groups of birds, regardless of our understanding of their evolutionary relationships, and whether we call them subfamilies or families.

A further point of discussion concerns the use of the words "sparrow" and "bunting," both of which are taxonomically ambiguous terms. In the general sense, sparrows can be various species of conical-billed, seed-eating birds. These can include species in the family of the weaver finches, Ploceidae, such as the house sparrow (Passer domesticus). However, the "typical" sparrows are species of the Americas in the subfamily Emberizinae, and these are the birds that are described in this entry.

Similarly, buntings can be certain species in the subfamily Cardinalinae, such as the indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea). Buntings can also be species in the Emberizinae, mostly of the Old World genus Emberiza, plus several other genera that occur in North America. It is the emberizid buntings that are the "typical" buntings.

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