Sunday, 16 January 2011

Sparrows in the North-east of England - 14th January 2011

Tree sparrows are a difficult species to see in Hampshire these days and so when I catch up with them in other parts of the country they are a species to enjoy. And so it was, that when a work trip, to carry out a wintering bird survey in the north-east of England was required, to a site where I knew the species to be present, I had no hesitation in going.

And this visit did not disappoint....

Tree Sparrow ©T. D. Codlin

The gardens at the entrance to the site have several bird feeders up and it is possible to get some really close views of the species using them, tree sparrows included. These stocky little birds are smaller than their close cousin, the house sparrow, and can be separated by the presence of the distinctive brown crown and dark cheek spot.

Waiting in Anticipation for a Refill ©T. D. Codlin

Action Shot of Tree Sparrow leaving Feeder ©T. D. Codlin

Male and female birds have identical plumages and therefore cannot be separated in the field. Juvenile birds often have a duller plumage in the winter; I did not see any juveniles on this visit so I hope that it is not a sign of them declining at the site.

Tree Sparrow Relaxing ©T. D. Codlin

House sparrows are also present at the site, and share the same feeders. By comparison this species has a more scruffy appearance and the male birds have a brighter plumage than females. Male birds also show a dark throat and bib, but lack the dark cheek spot of the tree sparrows.

Male House Sparrow ©T. D. Codlin

 I have been studying a population of house sparrows at a site in Hampshire since 2000, by way of a Retrapping Adults for Survival project. During that time I have captured and ringed 586 birds   and retrapped 411, the oldest being 4 years 267 days after its original capture date.

Male House Sparrow ©T. D. Codlin

There are many different theories about the decline of the house sparrow, but at my study site I think that the increase in the local sparrowhawk population is having a major effect. Sparrows are not the most agile of species and use the shelter of dense hedgerow for protection; the loss of these hedgerows makes them easy pickings for sparrowhawks.

I hope that house sparrows don't go the same way as tree sparrows have in Hampshire...

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