This is my very first bird spotlight, and although I didn’t think it would be as difficult as it has been to decide what species to chose there are two very special species that come to mind at where my life is at this point right now. First, let us start with the humble little house sparrow Passer domesticus. It was the first species that came to mind when I came up with the idea for the bird spotlight, as there is no other bird that has as much presence in my life or memories with it as the little house sparrow, Passer domesticus. It may seem strange to some people that a single species can have so much meaning to them to a person as the house sparrow does to myself.
The house sparrow Passer domesticus
My affection with the house sparrow stems back to the hours I would spend at the farm where I stabled my pony as a teenager. The farm was filled with them everywhere you looked there they were. small and insignificant to most of the people happily going about their daily activities of feeding and mucking out the horses, but not to me. I remember spending hours watching them as they sneakily stole the grain that had been left for the chickens, them tentatively taking the horse hair as the horses shed their winter coats just in time to line their nests.
In later years when I no longer kept a horse at the same farm, I would find them nesting on the bushes along the seafront of the sleepy seaside town that I lived in, and in the rhododendron bush of my parents’ driveway. Somehow their characters and little feisty spirits always have made me smile.
This picture below is possibly one of my favorite pictures I have ever taken, not because it is the best, it isn’t by any means but it was taken at such a significant time in my life. I see this picture and it reminds me of the feelings I had that day. It was a couple of days before I moved to China. I was going through a lot of personal things at the time and of course, I felt shit scared about moving. But just watching my favorite little bird gave me such peace, I can hardly describe it.
They are small birds, using the measurements from the RSPB they are about 14-15cm in length, with a wingspan of 21-25.5 cm and weigh 23-38g. They have a very strong sexual dimorphism. The females are mostly brown all over and easily confused with a dunnock (well my mum confuses them anyway) the males, however (pictured above) have more factual markings, and a grey underbelly.
Where to see them
they can be seen all over, not really being specific to farmlands or cities, they breed near to people, in holes in walls, drain pipes, barns anywhere they can find, they were once Britain’s most common bird, however, they are fast disappearing.
Declines and conservation status
You can only imagine how deeply saddened I am every time I hear about their declining numbers in the UK. According to the RSPB over the past 100 years, their population has been declining. In some urban areas, their numbers have declined by as much as 99%! This, of course, is old news that we have all read hundreds of times and given a little frown and a shake of our heads without doing anything else to change it. We have all heard the stories beore; the changes in agricultural methods have left them with less food especially over winter, and we are getting better at keeping animals such as the house sparrow out of our grain stores.
However it is not just the rural house sparrow that is in trouble, the RSPB has said that the urban population has droped by 60% since the 1970s. This decline in our cities could be due to a number of factors, but a study in Leicester found that a high chick mortality rate was linked to a lack of invertebrates.
So where does this leave the house sparrow? It is now red-listed by the RSPB as a high conservation concern.
The RSPB have carried out a fealid studdy that involved trying to increase the number of invertebrates in London’s green areas to find the most suitable for the house sparrow, they found that they prefered wildlife seed plots, they concluded ths was due to the openness and easy access to the invertebrates.
It is not just the RSPB that is trying to help the wild life trust is also doing their part, according to their website they are working with local farmers, landowners and developers to have more wildlife friendly practeses.
What can you do?
Firstly, you can put out food for them, and water, especially in the long winters and put up nest boxes for them, and donate money to the charities that can do further research into their declines.
I know it feels like nothing but there really is little we can do unless we are lucky enough to be working on a project with them. However, every little helps, and this plucky little bird needs all the help it can get right now.
Fun fact no 1
House sparrows commit sexual infidelity, this was proven by a DNA test that showed 15% of chicks are a result of either the hen or cock breeding with another partner.
Fun fact no 2
It is thought that the house sparrow did not originally come from the UK but introduced itself naturally from northern Africa.
The house sparrow to me is something that I have always associated with home. In my head, I always have it as the “home” sparrow as a “clever” little pun that’s just a joke between my self. However, I could not be more wrong with this strange idea I had. It had not even occurred to me that I would see it in other places. Of course, I was not surprised to see that it would range into mainland Europe I might be daft but I am not stupid and I, of course, know that we share most of their wildlife. But I was surprised to see that it does range as far as some parts of Asia including India and some parts of China and unlike in the UK worldwide, the IUCN red list has them categorised as least concerned.
Below is a map I have stolen from Wikipedia to get my point across; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_sparrow (but the IUCN red list does actually list countries that are not coloured in here such as Indonesia)
You will see however that, their range dose does not go far into China. You might think it is strange that I am writing about them then. This is where it’s cousin the tree sparrow Passer montanous comes into the picture.
The tree sparrow
Since I have moved to China about a year ago I have been lucky enough to travel to other countries within Asia while I have been here, and where ever I go there they are. A little reminder of home. Though they are not quite the same as their cousins. there is no difference between the males and females like there is with the house sparrow, and the tree sparrow has a little spot on his face. They serve as a little reminder of home, reminding me of who I am as I walk through the bustling streets of Beijing.
If you enjoyed this, watch out for my next bird spotlight where I will be talking more in-depth about the tree sparrow.