Are a Swallow & Sparrow the Same Thing?

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No, the swallow and the sparrow are different birds. Swallows are in the family Hirundinidae, while sparrows are in the family Emberizidae. It can be difficult to identify these birds of similar size in flight, but you can differentiate them by observing coloring, body types, diet and, in the case of these two, their typical habitats.

Body Type

Both sparrows and swallows vary in length from 5 inches to 7 inches, and they can grow as long as 10 inches. So length isn't a reliable defining feature. The various Towhees, sparrows, are between 8 and 10 inches long; the purple martin, a type of swallow, can be 8 1/2 inches long. Body shape is often a more reliable indicator. Swallows tend to have leaner forms, while sparrows are chubbier.

Food Preferences

The sparrow primarily eats seeds and frequents bird feeders, forages on the ground or perches in a tree, in a bush or in grass plucking for seeds. Swallows are insect-eaters who catch their prey in midair as they fly. They stop to rest on utility wires. Sparrows will eat insects, too, but do not catch and eat them while they fly; they typically eat ground insects such as crickets and beetles.

Habitats

The habitats and nesting habits of swallows and sparrows are generally different. Swallows nest on or in buildings, on cliffs or man-made excavations, in caves or by digging into the side of a riverbank. Such nests are made of mud lined with feathers for insulation. Some swallows use nest boxes if given the chance. Sparrows make more traditional nests of bark strips, twigs and weed stems lined with hair and feathers. They typically nest in thickets, woodlands, bushes, sagebrush or overgrown weedy fields or pastures. Sparrows will take over swallows' nests if given the opportunity, which is why you must consider other characteristics to discern a sparrow from a swallow.

Coloring

Coloring in adult birds is one of the best indications of whether the bird is a sparrow or a swallow. Most sparrows are brownish or grayish with white or gray undersides and possibly rust coloring somewhere on the head. Swallows often have steel-blue, blue-green, violet-green or emerald-green uppers, shiny or dull, with white undersides. Even brownish sparrows often have an iridescent blue sheen. Female sparrows tend to have duller coloring, but given the chance to see them up close, a colorful tinge is usually apparent. Juveniles of both species have not attained their adult coloring and may be brownish in color.

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Author

Barbara Bean-Mellinger is an award-winning writer in southwest Florida. She currently writes articles for newspapers, magazines and websites on topics including people, animals, careers and education, as well as advertising and promotional materials for businesses. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pittsburgh.