At first glance the Great sparrow looks like a slightly overgrown House sparrow (Passer domesticus), being approximately sixteen cm in length, but a closer look will show a few differences that distinguish the two from each other, besides the small difference in size. The Great sparrow has a grey crown; brown upperparts with a rufous rump and white underparts; it has a smaller black bib and a heavier bill than the House sparrow. Its preferred habitat, too, is different and it is found mainly in woodlands and dry acacia bushveld while the House sparrow is seldom to be found far from human habitation.
The male Great sparrows are slightly larger than the females, and the sexes also differ slightly in their plumage. They feed mainly on seeds and also on insects which they gather while hopping about on the ground or from the foliage of trees and bushes. They are near endemic to the southern African region.
I’m not sure if Great sparrows are particularly vain birds or if it is pure co-incidence that on several occasions while out camping we have found both males and females of the species pecking at their reflections, sometimes seen in a shiny kettle, or in the rear-view mirrors of our car. At the campsite at Palmwage one female was so peristent in the pecking of her likeness that we eventually covered the mirrors to gain respite from the tapping!
The Great sparrow is monogamous and builds an untidy nest, a hollow ball of grass with a side entrance, usually placed in a thorn tree. The female lays a clutch of two to four eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 15 days. It is sometimes parasitized by the Diderick cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius).
The scientific binomial for the Great sparrow is Passer motitensis; Passer from the Latin for a sparrow and motitensis from the Latin for Motito, the locality where the type specimen was found. There is a town by this name in South Africa, located north-west of Kuruman, which falls into the range of the Great sparrow but I’m not sure if this is the area referred to in the bird’s sobriquet.