The Cape sparrow or mossie (Passer melanurus) is a medium-sized sparrow at 14-16 centimetres (5.5-6.3 in), it has distinctive plumage including large pale head stripes. Both sexes are mostly coloured grey, brown, and chestnut, and the male has some black and white markings on its head and neck. Three subspecies are distinguished. For a sparrow, the Cape sparrow is brightly coloured and distinctive. The breeding male has a mostly black head, but with a broad white mark on each side, curling from behind the eye to the throat. On the throat a narrow black band connects the black bib of the breast to black of the head. The underparts are greyish, darker on the flanks. The back of the male's neck is dark grey, and its back and shoulders are bright chestnut. The male has a white and a black wing bar below its shoulders, and flight feathers and tail streaked grey and black. The female is plumaged like the male, but is duller and has a grey head with a different pattern from the male, though it bears a hint of the pale head markings of the male. The juvenile is like the female, but young males have black markings on the head from an early age.

Habitat and Distribution

The Cape sparrow inhabits southern Africa south of Angola and as far east as Swaziland. The northernmost point in its range is Benguela in Angola, and it is found in the coastal and central parts of Namibia, except for the driest parts of the Namib Desert. It occurs in all of South Africa except the farthest east, in southern Botswana and spottily in the Kalahari Basin of central Botswana. In the east, it breeds at small number of localities in southeastern Zimbabwe. It has been recorded as a vagrant in Harare, in central Zimbabwe. The eastern limit of its range is reached in the wet forests of Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal, extending into the hills of western Swaziland. The original habitats of this species were the semi-arid savanna, thornveld, and light woodland typical of southern Africa. When settled agriculture arrived in its range about a thousand years ago, it adapted to cultivated land, and since the arrival of settlement, it has moved into towns. The Cape sparrow prefers habitats with an annual rainfall of less than 75 centimetres (30 in), though in desert areas it is usually found near watercourses or watering holes. While it occurs in urban centres, it prefers parks, gardens, and other open spaces, and has a low reproductive success in more built-up areas. In towns, the Cape sparrow competes with both the native southern grey-headed sparrow and the introduced house sparrow.[16] Since it is more established around humans in its range than either, it successfully competes with both species, though they may exclude it from nesting in holes.[15][14] There are reports by birdwatchers in suburban areas of South Africa of increases in some regions (the northern Johannesburg area, and Pietermaritzburg) and decreases in others (the southern Cape Town area). The house sparrow is reported decreasing in several urban areas, as it has in parts of Europe, declines which are attributed to factors including the increasing density of garden plantings and increases in predation


The Cape sparrow mostly eats seeds, foraging in trees and on the ground. The larger seeds of cereals, wild grasses, and other small plants are preferred, with wheat and khakiweed (Alternanthera caracasana) being favourites. Buds and soft fruits are also taken, causing considerable damage to agriculture. Insects are eaten, and nestlings seem to be fed exclusively on caterpillars. The Cape sparrow eats the soft shoots of plants, and probes in aloes for nectar, but these habits are not important sources of food.


he birds typically breed in colonies and gather in large, often nomadic flocks while not breeding. The nest can be constructed in a variety of locations, in a tree or a bush in a hole or an empty nest of another species. A typical clutch contains three or four eggs, and both parents are involved in breeding from nest building to feeding young.

Calls and Songs

The Cape sparrow's vocalisations are chirps similar to those of the house sparrow, but much more musical and mellow. The basic call is used in flight and while perching socially and transcribed as chissip, chirrup, chreep, or chirrichup. A call used by the male to advertise nest ownership is transcribed as tweeng or twileeng. Distinctive and loud, this call sometimes becomes a jerky and repetitive song, transcribed as chip cheerup, chip cheerup.