Tree Sparrow

Often overlooked as 'just another sparrow', the Tree Sparrow is almost identical to a House Sparrow except without the grey cap. They are the scarce country cousin of the House Sparrow and can be found in open deciduous woodland or farmland rather than towns and gardens. They are shyer than House Sparrows and rarely associate with people, although in continental Europe they are the complete opposite and often nest in buildings just like House Sparrows do here! To further confuse you, they will all travel together in mixed flocks during the winter. They are very sociable, like the House Sparrow, and chirrup merrily away in flocks.

The Tree Sparrow is slightly smaller than a House Sparrow and more active, with its tail often cocked. It has an all chestnut crown, a black spot on its pale cheeks, a small black bib and pale underparts. Their chirrup is like a House Sparrow's, so telling them apart by call is hard. Experts say it is slightly more varied but you would need specialist sound equipment to tell. Thankfully, their flight call is a more distinctive "tek tek".

Tree Sparrows eat small insects, like aphids, and seeds. They feed in bushes, trees and on the ground, usually in groups.

The breeding season takes place from May to mid-August. They nest in colonies using holes in trees and buildings, often occupying the same hole year after year. The messy nest is made using twigs and grass. Both parents build the nest and incubate the 5 eggs which hatch after 11 days. For their first two weeks, the youngsters are fed on a high protein diet made up entirely of insects and spiders. The young can fly 15 days later and are fully independent after a further two weeks. They then disperse but don't travel far. They can raise up to three broods.

The Tree Sparrow is mainly resident with 200,000 pairs and can be found from the Midlands northwards and eastwards. A few continental birds overwinter here. They tend not to travel far which makes their colonisation progress slow. However, when numbers in an area build up they will sometimes 'erupt' to populate a new area. Tree Sparrows are seriously under threat, and are listed as a Red species of conservation concern. Their numbers have declined by 93% between 1970 and 2008. This could be due to changes in agricultural practices resulting in fewer food sources being available on farmland. More recent survey data is a bit more encouraging, suggesting that numbers may have started to increase again, albeit from a very low point.

Their Latin name is 'passer montanus' where 'passer' means 'sparrow' and 'motanus' means 'of the mountains' which is a bit wrong as they don't like mountains much at all. Field sparrow would have been closer. The English name comes from its preference of tree holes for nesting.

House Sparrow

The House Sparrow was originally from central Asia. They are found everywhere except Antarctica, where it is a bit too chilly even when wearing a good shawl. In Greece, Sparrows were symbols of true love and sacred to the goddess Aphrodite no less.

The House Sparrow has a short stubby bill, chestnut brown streaked upper parts, pale unmarked under parts, a brown head with a grey crown, a black throat, pale cheeks, and grey bum. They have a small white wing bar. A colourful dresser - if you like brown. The female and young are a bit duller and lack the male's grey crown. They have a frantic, looping flight before diving into the nearest hedge and becoming invisible apart for the racket they make.

The House Sparrow is hardly musical but very cheerful and chatty. They like a good knit and natter, and form a 'Sparrow Chapel' when flocks gather in their favourite bushes for a good gas. Their very distinctive "chirrup" makes House Sparrows easy to pick out from the other birds.

They are not fussy eaters and will try just about everything, including grain, insects, fat balls, bacon rind and bread crusts, enjoying a good buffet at social events. They hate pigeons and flocks of sparrows will often chase them off as who wants fatty pigeon eating all the food.

House Sparrow pairs usually stay together for life (to stop any tongue wagging). They nest in holes in buildings or in a tasteful nest box. They lay up to 5 eggs which are kept warm by both parents though the female does the larger share. The eggs hatch after 12 days and both parents feed the young. The young are ready to fly after 14 days and can feed themselves 7 days later, wanting to get to the 'all you can eat' buffet as soon as possible. House Sparrows can have up to 4 broods, which is pretty good going! The offspring generally stay in the neighbourhood as they a like to visit grandma and grandpa at weekends.

A widespread resident with 6 million pairs. They are mainly associated with human activity and tend to hang out in farms, houses, and gardens, anywhere where there is a good bit of gossip. For an unknown reason, sparrow numbers have been declining in recent years. Air pollution from cars is thought to be one possible cause. Their Latin name is ’passer domesticus’ which is 'sparrow belonging to a house' (like Ravenclaw).

Dunnock


Often called a 'hedge sparrow', the Dunnock is not in the sparrow family at all. They have a blue-grey head and breast, rich brown upper parts and a streaky back, wings, and sides. Their Latin name 'prunella modularis' roughly translates as 'singing little plum' which is quite sweet but nowhere near what these little fellows are actually like. The Dunnock creeps, mouse-like, on the ground, giving a nervous flick of its wings. The wing flicking is what it is all about, like the flicking of the fringe by a male super model. Dunnocks are mad for sex, and multiple infidelities and deceptions mark their steamy lives. Some males have two females, some females two males, and even groups of males share several females. The hedges of Britain are a hotbed of Dunnock passion!

The Dunnock's song is a squeaky ditty with a series of trills and warbles ending with a phrase that often sounds like "Who are you looking at?" which is what they would say, being so vain. They tend to sing in the morning, having a good vocal stretch before the serious business of chasing the ladies.

Dunnocks eat insects, seeds and berries, mainly from the ground, while creeping around under the hedges. This is why you will often see them picking up seeds from beneath the garden feeder rather than on it.

They build a cup-shaped nest out of roots, leaves, and grasses. Up to 6 eggs are laid which hatch after 12 days. Despite all the different free-love arrangements, they all stay together to help raise the young (as nobody is quite sure which chick is whose). The young can fly after 11 days. There are often three broods as it is easy with all that help.

The Dunnock is pretty sedentary with about 2 million birds in the British Isles. They are not too fussy where they live and will happily occupy a bramble patch if nothing else is going. Who cares where you live providing there is 'lurve'?