While we wait for the rest of our summer visitors to arrive, let’s have a look at a species that we are lucky to have at the Visitor Centre all year round, the tree sparrow. While the steep decline in the number of house and tree sparrows over the last forty years has meant that both have been given an IUCN Red Status (indicating that the International Union for Conservation of Nature believe these two species to be at high risk of global extinction), the tree sparrow is the rarest and least likely visitor to the bird table.
It can be distinguished from the house sparrow by its smaller size, chestnut brown head and nape (compared to the house’s grey), and its black cheek spot. While very shy around humans, in Britain at least, it is much more active than house sparrows and is generally seen with its tail cocked.
Despite its small size it is more than capable of adapting to a variety of habitats. While usually rural in areas where the larger house sparrows are found, it is regularly found in urban spaces. Predominantly a sedentary bird, individuals will migrate if needed, with many populations moving south over the winter months and some individuals migrating as far east as China. This adaptability has meant that the tree sparrows natural range covers most of temperate Europe and Asia, and Southeast Asia. It has also managed to thrive in areas where it has been introduced, such as Australia and America, where it is sometimes classed as a pest.
Both house and tree sparrows can be seen at the Visitor Centre. The mixed seeds and nuts available at our feeders and the variety of habitats ensure that there is always a ready supply of food and shelter all year round. This is something that can be emulated on a smaller scale in the gardens and would go some way to help these two species out of the Red Status.
Georgina Bowie (Visitor Centre Assistant)