House Sparrow now English Sparrow subspecies?

Is there a reason why all of these basic sightings of House Sparrows are changed to English Sparrow (subspecies) from the majority suggested ID of House Sparrow for many of them? This is happening based on two users adding English Sparrow.

Here are a few of many changes within the past hour:

Thanks for looking into this.


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2 ssp ids make RG at subspecies, there’s no conflict between them and species id. It is a correct id too (though I don’t know why it has common name of English when it’s far from living only in England).

New wave of English Imperialism?

Joke out of the way… I think it just has to do with whomever is in charge of assigning the common name to a taxon:

English sparrow is just a more refined (narrowed) identitification that enough iNat identifiers have agreed to based on photos.

I think these sorts of taxanomical changes happen when a new subspecies is named. Likely there is Passer domesticus ssp. X so what was previously called Passer domesticus gets renamed to Passer domesticus ssp. domesticus.

It’s still a bit strange why the common name for both isn’t House Sparrow, though… latin is still domesticus = house for both. You could always @ whomever is narrowing to subspecies asking what they see in photos that lets them narrow to subspecies level.

The House Sparrows introduced to New York in 1851 came from England. Since it has only been 170 years since this happened, and House Sparrows have not had enough morphological differences to be considered an “American” subspecies. Therefore, the subspecies is the correct species, just more refined/ “English Sparrow” comes from that this subspecies is different from the other subspecies of House Sparrows in different areas of the world.

Grrr and I still despise the subspecies designation.


Common names shouldn’t be the same for different taxa, but second common name for this ssp. is European House Sparrow that fits it more even though there’s another ssp. in Southern Europe, would be nice to get it moved to be the 1st name.

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So much fun learning a 3rd latin name for something, 2 isn’t hard enough I guess?

Granted, it allows even narrower naming of something, even if the feature between subspecies feels bogus like: feature X is 1.0 mm on taxon A, whereas it is 1.2 mm on taxon B.

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No need. Subspecies only matter in certain niche use cases. For most purposes, species is good enough.


I generally agree, there’s one that sticks out like a sore thumb that I can think of: Brocolli, Kale, and Cabbage are all Brassica oleracea. Is that less common in animal identification?

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Bird subspecies are valid and inevitable in many cases as big part of them are separate species or soon to be, you can’t study birds and avoid subspecies, they have base and even though there can little value of adding nominate ssp. ids, there’s no downside either. All NA sparrows belong to one ssp. and if someone want to add that id, that’s their time to spend. There’re species like Larus argentatus where even nominate subspecies is a great id to make, Laridae in general are full of that and you can’t stick to popular forum view of “subspecies don’t matter”, because they do.


Thanks all for the responses. There are lot of issues with this. House Sparrow is the common name for this species. I’ve been birding since 1997 and this is first time I’ve ever seen this species in the U.S. referred to as English Sparrow knowing full well that this is an introduced species.

Also, on this observation there are 5 House Sparrow IDs and only 2 English Sparrow IDs yet this observation is labeled ‘English Sparrow’. It doesn’t matter if there are maverick IDs but why does the minority vote get the label?


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It might be okay in this instance to use the subspecies for North American populations of this species, if the source was indeed England and only England, even if the refinement seems a little silly. But with other introductions the source or sources might be less clear and a subspecies designation in those cases is probably not warranted.

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Those are not maverick ids, they’re refining ids, they’re not in disagreement with species ids and so of course community taxon changes, hopefully we don’t need 5 ids to get that.

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@marina_gorbunova True. I misspoke. But why do 2 refining IDs dominate the 5 IDs related to House Sparrow? This is the point I’ve been trying to make on all the examples in my original post.


Reading the above, is the issue:

  1. Passer domesticus is called a House Sparrow so Passer domesticus ssp. domesticus should be called Something House Sparrow rather than English Sparrow?
  2. Passer domesticus is the dominant kind, so ID should be left as Passer domesticus no subspecies needed?

If #1 this might be an issue that can be resolved in the iNat taxon ID. Maybe the common name is wrong? I couldn’t find information easily about Passer domesticus ssp. domesticus naming history, maybe a birder can comment who has access to something like Tropicos (for Botany) but for birds…

If #2 I agree with @marina_gorbunova that including subspecies is more correct because it helps distinguish the taxon better than just Genus species, @gcsnelling that this can be frustrating, and @jasonhernandez74 that Genus species is good enough in many cases.

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If there were 5 IDs of “Bird sp” and 2 ID’s of House Sparrow, than it would be considered research grade, and the community ID would be House Sparrow. The same thing is happening here, more specific ID’s always “dominate” less specific ID’s.


@david99 Thanks for the explanation.

I think @vreinkymov has it right that the English Sparrow description on the subspecies should change to House Sparrow to avoid confusion but this might break something where people actually talk about the subspecies of House Sparrow which we rarely need to do here in America. This is first I’ve heard about it being talked about in the 25 years I’ve been birding.

Only two users have found it necessary to ID House Sparrows down to the subspecific level applying them to IDs I’m associated with but they’re applying themselves! I only posted the tip of the iceberg in my original post.

Thanks again.

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I have never before heard anyone use the term “English Sparrow”, despite having been engaged in the largest online community of British (!) birders, so I would really not say this is a “Common” name :)


The name of the species of bird that you’ve documented is still House Sparrow. The subspecies is a narrower taxonomic unit, and each subspecies has a name. The English Sparrow is a House Sparrow just like a human is a type of mammal. There’s nothing incorrect about what you are seeing.

Regarding what may be the most acceptable common name, English Sparrow has a long history of use, though perhaps the usage differs regionally–and it appears to most commonly refer to the species rather than the subspecies nowdays. See pages 470-471 of this 1919 paper for an early usage of this name for the subspecies. Though this may not be how we use the name nowadays.

“Hartert (1910,
pp. 147-151) after a study of the group came to recognizeno
less than eight subspecies occupyingdifferentareas in Europe,
westernAsia and northernAfrica. Subsequently,at least two
more races have been named. And now, a German, Klein-
schmidt;has discoveredthat the sparrowsof England are distin-
guishable fromthoseon the continent. The latter,having been
the basis of Liniaeus’s name, becomesPasser dom-nesticitsdomes-
tics, and the sparrow of England Kleinsclhnidtniamees(cited
under date 1915, thoughI have not seen the original description
myself) Passer clomesticutshostilis. As pointed out by Ober-
holser (1917, p. 329), since the AmericanstockcamnefromEng-
laud our bird must also be knowumunder this iiame. And fur-
therinore,the vernacular termn,European house sparrow,which
sonie people have preferredbecause of a fancied unpleasant
associationin the name Eiiglish sparrow,can not be used prop-
erly for the Americanbird”

It was also used in this paper in 1940.

And in this 1966 paper.

But I don’t see English Sparrow being used for the subspecies after that. It appears to have fallen out of favor.


What’s going on here is that someone has set the name for the subspecies to “English Sparrow” for only the United States and Canada. This seems clearly wrong to me. “House Sparrow” is what these birds are called in North America, “English Sparrow” is a somewhat archaic name and I can find no indication online that it is ever used recently to refer to specifically this subspecies excluding other subspecies. I’m not sure why whoever made this change did so and what source they were basing it on.

“European House Sparrow” seems like the best common name, but frankly I don’t think this subspecies really has a common name, any such common names are just something someone invented one day that have not caught on at all. Really I think this subspecies would be best left without a common name and just display the Latin. Barring that, European House Sparrow is clearly better than English Sparrow and I’ve made that change.