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If you are interested in birds, bird watching, and the animal world in general, you may have heard the term Passerine. But what does passerine mean?

Passerines include about 60% of the birds of the world. Passerines are referred to as songbirds, although not all fall into this suborder. Passerines are known as perching birds due to their defining characteristic of three forward-facing talons and one facing behind, allowing them to grip onto branches and trunks tightly while they perch.

Below, we will look at defining a Passerine bird, what types of birds fall into this category, and what the differences are between Passerine and non-Passerine birds. Read below to discover everything you need to know.

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Robin

What is a passerine?

A passerine is a perching bird that is a member of the order Passeriformes and accounts for more than half of all bird species, with over 5,000 belonging to this bird category. This includes all songbirds, finches, thrushes, larks, and sparrows. Passerines are often referred to as songbirds, although this is not entirely correct as not all of these birds have musical songs or calls.

What percentage of birds are passerines?

Passerines or perching birds account for approximately 60% of the global population of birds, and the categorization covers a substantial number of bird species found worldwide.

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Shared characteristics

Other than perching, passerines can be identified by the anisodactyl arrangement of their feet. These species will have four unwebbed toes, with three directed forwards and one facing behind, all joining at the same level. The toes will be shaped as small talons, and this foot shape allows passerines to perch and balance on branches and trunks.

They can even cling onto their perching surface while they are asleep. The legs of passerine birds also have extra strength in the tendons to support the clenching of their talons around a branch and ensure they can stay perched.

As well as being excellent for perching, passerines will use their dexterous feet to hold nuts and seeds, grip material for and build their nests, and preen. Some of this type of bird may also be witnessed using their feet to grip stones and twigs, which they use as tools.

Passerine birds are generally small to medium-sized creatures with an upright but relaxed posture while perching. They will also have light and bright feather colorings and distinct, easily identifiable markings.

As a rule, these birds are also quite vocal, emitting many diverse types of calls, although, as discussed above, they do not all fall into the category of passerine songbirds.

Passerine birds are generally daytime birds and are most active during the hours when the sun is up. These birds’ chicks also rely on their parents after hatching, requiring care, protection, and nurturing in the nest.

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Blue jay

Passerine Sub-orders

The different types of passerines (Passeri, Tyranni, Acanthisitti)

Within the passerine category are three sub-orders: Tyranni, Acanthisitti, and Passeri. Below we will look at how these passerine sub-orders are defined:

Tyranni (Suboscines)

The Tyranni sub-order of Passerine birds includes over 1,000 bird species. The majority of this type of bird can be found in South America. This order contains Pittas, Antbirds, Contigas, and Antpittas. These birds are categorized by their small and limited syrinx system, which marks them out as different from oscine birds within the passerine category.

Infraorder Eurylaimides
Philepittidae: asities
Eurylaimidae: eurylaimid broadbills
Sapayoidae: Broad-billed Sapayoa
Smithornithidae: African broadbill
Calyptomenidae: calytomenid broadbills
Pittidae: pittas

Adult male Golden-headed Manakins (Pipra erythrocephala) have striking display plumage, as do line with many of their relatives.

Infraorder Tyrannides
New World suboscines

Superfamily Tyrannida
Pipridae: manakins
Cotingidae: cotingas
Oxyruncidae: Sharpbill
Onychorhynchidae: Royal Flycatcher & allies
Tityridae: tityras and allies.
Pipritidae: piprites
Platyrinchidae: spadebills
Tachurididae: Many-coloured Rush Tyrant
Rhynchocyclidae: mionectine flycatchers
Tyrannidae: tyrant flycatchers

Superfamily Furnariida
Melanopareiidae: crescent-chests
Conopophagidae: gnateaters and gnatpittas
Thamnophilidae: antbirds
Grallariidae: antpittas
Rhinocryptidae: tapaculos
Formicariidae: antthrushes
Furnariidae: ovenbirds and woodcreepers

Passeri (Oscines)

The Passeri sub-order of Passerine birds is made up of songbirds and consists of roughly 70 bird families. Passerine songbirds are generally small and are categorized by the presence of voice box syrinx musculature, which allows them to make calls.

These can vary from flat, repetitive sounds to more musical and melodic songs. This order contains over 4,500 species of birds and makes up around 80% of the total number of Passerines.

Infraorder Menurida

Menuridae: lyrebirds
Atrichornithidae: scrub-birds

Infraorder Climacterida

Climacteridae: Australian treecreepers
Ptilonorhynchidae: bowerbirds

Infraorder Meliphagida

Maluridae: fairywrens, emu-wrens and grasswrens
Dasyornithidae: bristlebirds. Formerly in Acanthizidae.
Pardalotidae: pardalotes. Formerly in Acanthizidae.
Meliphagidae: honeyeaters

Infraorder Orthonychida

Orthonychidae: logrunners
Pomatostomidae: pseudo-babblers

Infraorder Corvida

Superfamily Mohouoidea

Mohouidae: Whitehead and allies

Superfamily Orioloidea

Oreoicidae: Australo-Papuan bellbirds
Falcunculidae: shriketits
Cinclosomatidae: quail-thrushes and jewel-babblers
Pachycephalidae: whistlers and allies.
Eulacestomatidae: Wattled Ploughbill
Oriolidae: Old World orioles and figbirds
Paramythiidae: painted berrypeckers
Psophodidae: whipbirds and wedgebills
Pteruthiidae: shrike-babblers
Vireonidae: vireos

Superfamily Neosittoidea
Neosittidae: sittellas

Superfamily Malaconotoidea
Campephagidae: cuckooshrikes and trillers
Rhagologidae: Mottled Berryhunter
Artamidae: woodswallows, butcherbirds, currawongs, peltops, and Australian Magpie
Machaerirhynchidae: boatbills
Aegithinidae: ioras
Pityriaseidae: Bornean Bristlehead
Malaconotidae: puffbacks, bushshrikes, tchagras, gonoleks and boubous
Platysteiridae: wattle-eyes and batises
Vangidae: vangas, helmetshrikes, philentomas and woodshrikes

Superfamily Corvoidea

Dicruridae: drongos
Lamproliidae: Silktail, Drongo Fantail
Rhipiduridae: fantails
Ifritidae: Blue-capped Ifrita
Melampittidae: melampittas
Corcoracidae: Australian mudnesters
Paradisaeidae: birds-of-paradise
Monarchidae: monarch flycatchers
Laniidae: shrikes
Platylophidae: Crested Jay
Corvidae: crows, ravens, choughs, treepies, magpies and jays

Infraorder Passerida

Superfamily Melanocharitoidea

Melanocharitidae: berrypeckers and longbills

Superfamily Cnemophiloidea

Cnemophilidae: satinbirds

Superfamily Callaeoidea

Notiomystidae: Stitchbird
Callaeidae: New Zealand wattlebirds
Petroicidae: Australasian robins

Superfamily Picathartoidea

Picathartidae: rockfowl
Chaetopidae: rockjumpers
Eupetidae: Rail-babbler

Superfamily Paroidea

Stenostiridae: fairy flycatchers
Hyliotidae: hyliotas
Remizidae: penduline tits
Paridae: tits, chickadees and titmice

Superfamily Sylvioidea

Nicatoridae: nicators
Panuridae: Bearded Reedling
Alaudidae: larks

Macrosphenidae

Macrosphenidae: African warblers.

Acrocephalus

Pnoepygidae: wren-babblers.
Acrocephalidae: reed-warblers.
Donacobiidae: Black-capped Donacobius.
Bernieridae: Malagasy warblers.
Locustellidae: grassbirds.
Cisticolidae: cisticolas and allies.

Swallows, Bulbuls

Hirundinidae: swallows and martins
Pycnonotidae: bulbuls

Hyliidae, Aegithalidae, Cettiidae, and Phylloscopidae

Hyliidae: hylias
Aegithalidae: long-tailed tits or bushtits
Cettiidae: cettiid warblers.
Phylloscopidae: leaf-warblers and allies.

Babblers and allies

Sylviidae: sylviid warblers
Paradoxornithidae: parrotbills and fulvettas
Zosteropidae: white-eyes and yuhinas
Timaliidae: babblers and scimitar-babblers
Pellorneidae: ground-babblers
Leiothrichidae: laughing thrushes

Superfamily Reguloidea
Regulidae: kinglets

Superfamily Bombycilloidea

Elachuridae: Spotted Elachura
Mohoidae: Hawaiian honeyeaters
Ptilogonatidae: silky flycatchers
Dulidae: Palmchat
Hypocoliidae: Grey Hypocolius and Hylocitrea
Bombycillidae: waxwings

Superfamily Certhioidea

Tichodromadidae: Wallcreeper
Sittidae: nuthatches and Spotted Creeper
Certhiidae: treecreepers
Polioptilidae: gnatcatchers
Troglodytidae: wrens

Superfamily Muscicapoidea

Oxpeckers, Starlings, Mockingbirds

Buphagidae: oxpeckers.
Mimidae: mockingbirds and thrashers
Sturnidae: starlings, mynas and Philippine creepers.

Dippers, Thrushes, Old World flycatchers

Cinclidae: dippers
Muscicapidae: Old World flycatchers, Alethe, niltavas, African robins and chats.
Turdidae: thrushes, Grandala, solitaires and robins

Superfamily Passeroidea

Basal Passeroidea

Promeropidae: sugarbirds
Arcanatoridae: Sub-Saharan babblers
Dicaeidae: flowerpeckers
Nectariniidae: sunbirds
Irenidae: fairy-bluebirds
Chloropseidae: leafbirds

Core Passeroidea

Urocynchramidae: Przewalski’s Finch.
Peucedramidae: Olive Warbler

Estrildid clade

Ploceidae: weavers, bishops and queleas
Viduidae: Cuckoo Finch, indigobirds and whydahs
Estrildidae: waxbills, parrotfinches, mannikins, munias and quailfinches

Passerid clade

Passeridae: true sparrows
Hermit Thrush

Nine-primaried oscines
Motacillidae: wagtails and pipits

Fringillidae: true finches, euphonias and Hawaiian honeycreepers

Epifamily Icteroidea

Calcariidae: snow buntings and longspurs
Rhodinocichlidae: Rosy Thrush-Tanager

Buntings and Sparrows

Emberizidae: Old World buntings
Passerellidae: American sparrows

Blackbirds and Warblers

Phaenicophilidae: palm-tanagers and allies
Incertae sedis: Teretistris and Wrenthrush
Icteridae: grackles, New World blackbirds, and New World orioles
Parulidae: New World warblers

Thraupid group

Microspingidae: Mitrospingus and allies
Cardinalidae: cardinals and grosbeaks
Thraupidae: tanagers, Darwin’s finches, dacnises, saltators, Bananaquit, honeyeaters and flower-piercers

Acanthisittidae (Acanthisitti)

The Acanthisittidae family of passerine birds are known as New Zealand wrens and are a tiny type of bird found in New Zealand. Despite their misleading name, they are not members of the wren family, although they have similar behavior and appearance.

There were originally seven genera in the family, but now only two are found. They are said to form their distinct sub-order of passerines called Acanthisitti, which is the most ancient and have no close relatives living today at all.

Acanthisittidae: New Zealand wrens

Differences between passerines and non-passerines

Although over half of the bird population falls into the passerine categorization, there are still plenty of species you will be familiar with which are not classified as passerines; non-passerines include:

Ducks, Swans, and Geese
Turkeys, Quail, and Pheasants
Penguins, Puffins, and Gulls
Budgies, Parrots, and Parakeets.

Although some of these bird types may share characteristics with passerine birds, they also have differences that see them fall under the non-passerine category. Because so many different bird species fall into this category, it is difficult to pinpoint defining characteristics that identify them all and mark them out as collectively different from passerines.

For example, the size of non-passerines can vary from small budgies to huge emus. Non-passerines can also be found in a wide variety of habitats, from the coast and cliffs to jungles and savannas. The most reliable identification difference is the feet.

As discussed above, passerine birds have a specific type of foot that is well adapted to perching on branches and trunks. Non-passerine birds can have a variety of foot formations; for example, emus have three feet facing forwards, while parrots have two talons facing forwards and two backward.

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