Over the last year or so, I've been observing house sparrows, because they are so prevalent in the northeast US cities. I noticed that a lot of sparrows, even in different cities seem to have very similar body language for communicating. I learned 3 expressions

Here's an example of a sparrow feeding their young. The young bird opens month and flickers its wings in what I can only describe as impatiently.

A sparrow swipes its beak along a surface at its feet - something food related?

A sparrow fluffs its feathers, turning into something like a tennis ball made of feathers.

I'm looking at this video of a sparrow raised in captivity, and it does 2 out of 3 expressions described here.

What interests me is if expressions like these are "local dialects" or universal, thus found across different geographies and times? for example, do sparrows in northeast US use the same expressions as sparrows in Australia? What about sparrows in the United Kingdom in the 1950s?


In general, animal communication contains both "cultural" aspects and genetic components.

As you suggest, the cultural aspects vary more across geographies and times. The genetic components might vary as well, with genetic differences among different populations, but you'd expect them to be more conservative than the cultural aspects. To make the matter even more complex, if the communication behaviors affect mating; they could in turn have an effect on the genetic components!

This article describes birds raised in captivity that had "maladjusted" songs (which would support both genetic and cultural components), and North Carolina cowbirds raised by Texas parents who grew up with a Texas birdsong dialect (evidence for cultural components). Although the piece is mostly focused on song, I imagine the mechanisms would be similar for body language.

| improve this answer | |
  • $\begingroup$ Full disclosure – the author of that linked article is my father. $\endgroup$ – Oreotrephes Jul 18 '13 at 2:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.