House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)Photo: December 2004Classification:
Genus: Passer Other names:
French: Moineau domestique
Widespread across the world in every continent except Antarctica; often originally introduced by man. On the African continent they are less common in the arid regions. The species was introduced to South Africa in the 1890's.Identification:
The House Sparrow is a small (14 cm), mostly social, bird that is found in cities, towns, gardens and parks. It has a short, powerful, conical bill. The bill is black in breeding males and greyish-brown in females and non-breeding males. The legs and feet are pinkish-brown.
The male has a grey forehead and crown. The back of the head and back is a rich red-brown colour. There is a black line running through the eye, below which there is a large whitish ear-patch. The throat and a upper breast are black. The back and wings are tawny-brown, with some black markings, giving the back a scaled effect. The rump is grey. It can be distinguished from the male Great Sparrow by the lack of bright chestnut colouring on the rump.
The female is a dull grey-brown and shows a narrow off-white eye-stripe which differentiates it from the Yellow-throated Petronia (Yellow-throated Sparrow). Both male and female have a whitish wing bar.
Juvenile resembles the female. Call:
A husky, penetrating "chi-chip, chichiririp, cheep". The song is a repeated combination of call-notes. Habitat:
The species is found around virtually all human habitation. It is always associated with human settlement, and does not occur far away from houses or buildings.
Their diet consists of seeds, soft buds, fruit, insects, spiders and any food scraps from humans or on bird tables. Breeding:
In sub-Saharan Africa the House Sparrow breeds all months of the year. The nest is an untidy mass of grass, wool, feathers and other soft materials, with side entrance. It is placed usually in a cavity in a building - under eaves or in a thatched roof (like that of a Kruger bungalow
Clutch: 3-5 eggs. Incubation (by the female) does not start until all eggs are laid. The male feeds the hatchlings and fledgelings. House Sparrows are monogamous.Status:
Common to abundant resident.Conservation:
Since the House Sparrow has such a huge range it is not considered globally threatened (2006 IUCN Red List Category: Least Concern), but unfortunately that classification may be up for revision soon.
The species is becoming increasingly rare in the UK, the Netherlands, France and other European countries. The official Dutch partner of Birdlife International has classified the House Sparrow as Near Threatened (NL Red List 2004).
The decline in Britain - where sparrow numbers are believed to have fallen by 90% in the past 15 years - has already been well documented, partly thanks to a campaign by The Independent. French ornithologists have now charted a steep decline in Paris and other French cities. There has been an even sharper fall in urban populations in Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Finland.
Various possible explanations have been offered by ornithologists. The rise in numbers and variety of other birds may have reduced their nesting places and feeding opportunities. And tightened building regulations, along with better maintenance, may have closed up the cracks in which they used to nest. The number of cats is also booming, so they may be preying more on the birds. Some blame radio waves from mobile telephones or pollution from cars; but why should that affect sparrows and not other birds?
The mystery still stands, and according to Alain Bougrain-Dubourg, president of the French Society for the Protection of Birds, "All the signals are on red. The house sparrow is a highly symbolic bird, which has co-habited closely with man for 10,000 years. It may be less attractive than a blue tit but it has the right to survive, for the sake of biodiversity if nothing else."
So don't any of you dare say: "oh, it's just a sparrow". */edit: some links apparently went past their "best before" date.