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Yellow-throated Petronia

Yellow-throated Petronia

(a.k.a. Yellow-throated Sparrow)

Petronia superciliaris (Genus: petronia, Latin = to do with rocks, referring to the habitat of the Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia; species: superciliaris, Latin: with an eyebrow)
Inzwa-unzwe (Shona); 

Moineau bride (French); 

Pardal-de-garganta-amarela (Portuguese)

Did you spot the deliberate mistake above?  The call that you hear on the site above is actually the call of Gymnoris superciliaris – of course you realised that as soon as you heard it!  Our bird has the same English name and appearance – it is the same bird, surely, isn’t it?  But a different Genus name!  What is going on?  The truth is, I don’t know why a single bird should have different genus names, nor why two different birds should have the same English name.  Nor why my book doesn’t warn me about this.  Somewhere in the internet, the answer to this puzzle is hiding. 

While we are on the subject of names, the Shona name (Inzwa-unzwe) is certainly intriguing.  It sounds to me as if it might be onomatopoeic, but it also looks as if it means something (is it something to do with kunzwa to hear? – ‘Hear-you-hear’?).  Here I must ask help from any of my Shona-speaking readers: please do let me know if you have the answer or can make a better guess at it than I have.

This bird is quite common and has a huge range, right across southern Africa, up to Congo and Tanzania.  The trouble is, it looks pretty much like the Southern Grey-headed Sparrow which are even more common.  The Petronia’s eyebrow, however, and the Sparrow’s smart military shoulder-stripes do distinguish them.  The Petronia’s little splash of yellow on the chest (hardly throat!) is not always that visible.  They look and behave pretty much like sparrows from what I can see, except that I have seen the Petronia taking seeds out of dry marigold flower-heads and I don’t think I have seen sparrows do that.  

I could go on about the dreaded Greater Honeyguide that heartlessly lays its egg in these harmless birds’ nests, and equips its chicks with viciously hooked beaks so that the first thing they do when they hatch (and they always make sure to hatch first, before the Petronia’s chicks) is to savage the Petronia chicks to death and chuck the corpses out of the nest, thereafter gobbling all the food the unwitting (which is not, or not quite, the same as ‘witless’) Petronia parents bring.  As I say, I could tell you all that, but I have done it before and I don’t think I will do it all again.

Stephen Buckland

Dr. Stephen Buckland – Lecturer in Philosophy but also a keen amateur bird watcher.

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