Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Exotic Sparrows

A female House Sparrow takes a bath
I have been a bit busy recently and haven't had time to keep up with the blog, but I did take time to appreciate the humble House Sparrow on the 20th March - World Sparrow Day. The House Sparrow Passer domesticus is one of the most cosmopolitan birds and here in Australia it is an exotic bird - introduced from a foreign country, i.e. the UK about 150 years ago. Some people don't like them as they are an introduced species and as such they have no legal protection, but I like them and admire them.

A Crimson Rosella in the garden
Exotic is an overused and often miss-used word, which when applied to birds usually refers to brightly-coloured species from foreign places, such as parrots. Well, some the the commonest birds in our Canberra garden are parrots; especially Crimson Rosellas, Eastern Rosellas and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos. I have seen more than ten species of parrot in or over the garden, but none is exotic. The sparrow is exotic.

A flock of House Sparrows digging for seeds in the garden
It's autumn now and the sparrows are moulting into their duller winter plumage, the flock has built up to its high point - and soon there will be Collared Sparrowhawks coming in and taking a few (there is a big clue in the name). Last Spring the flock went down to only two or three birds from a peak of about twenty. But House Sparrows are survivors.

They really can dig
However, if sparrows are survivors, why are they are in decline in the UK? If we are losing sparrows, then there must be something changing in the environment. These birds are never far from human habitation, being mostly an urban species and only venturing into rural areas if there are farms or other settlements. They don't 'invade' other habitats. They can be an agricultural, or bio-security pest by eating grains or fruits, or entering piggeries. Although, perhaps they could be regarded as a biological early-warning device. Why are they declining in the UK, too many human-made chemicals in the environment? Remember, these birds only live in close proximity to humans, so if their environment if being damaged, so is ours.

But they keep themselves clean
Meanwhile, as I write I can hear them chirping and splashing as they take a bath in the birds' water dish.
A happy, healthy sound.

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