My Eurasian Tree Sparrows and Why I’ve Come to Love Them..

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow is not native to the USA. Like the more common House Sparrow, both species came from Europe and/or Asia. In the 19th century, south St. Louis was home to many immigrants of European descent. Some of these immigrants wanted more friendly reminders of their homeland. As a result, 12 Eurasian Tree Sparrows were released into Lafayette Park in the south city on April 25th, 1870, according to records.

Along with the sparrows, Bullfinches, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, and Linnets were also released. However, the only birds to successfully establish a breeding population were the sparrows. 8 years later, the invasion of the more aggressive House Sparrow began, and this invasion started pushing the Eurasians from their nesting areas, forcing them to expand their ranges, too. The Eurasian definitely prefers a more open countryside and have followed the expansion of the suburbs of St. Louis. But, Eurasians also moved north up the Illinois River valley, only a short distance upstream of the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

Why have House Sparrows become more common, though? Two reasons. One, House Sparrows are more aggressive and drive other birds away from their nest sites. Two, House Sparrows breed faster. House Sparrows can have as many as 5 or 6 clutches per season. Eurasians have only a couple. Therefore, the House Sparrows can expand faster than Eurasians. Just this year (2010), I witnessed a pair of House Sparrows successfully raise over a dozen fledglings in my backyard! We moved in late summer to a new house, and imagine my surprise to see the Eurasian population represented over here. We have been here two months, and I have yet to see a House Sparrow. Suddenly, I am a sparrow fan after many years of discontent bordering on hatred.

Part of the reason I like birding so much is all the things I learn. You will hear me reference my grandmother a lot, as she introduced me to the common backyard visitors we see. But, even her impressive knowledge was a bit limited when it came to similar species and their histories. We have a good many sparrow species around the St. Louis area, and I hope to see more of them as time goes on. Most are rather docile and come to feeders to grab some seed from the ground. Yes, a lot will also perch for you, but it’s more entertaining for me to watch them scratch and hunt in the mulch and grass for the morsel that missed a Cardinal’s mouth. As a small tip, I always keep a stump or large branch under my feeders for these types of “scratchers.”

The easiest way to identify a Eurasian Tree Sparrow is to look for the black “ear spot” they have on their necks. Otherwise, they look like ordinary House Sparrows to me. But, this little black spot is easy to see and now you will quickly know a tidbit of information to prove to your family that you have a bit of Cliff Clayvern in you, too.

Here are some hotspots of documented populations in the St. Louis area: Dogtown, The Hill, Wehner Park (Shrewsbury), Grant’s Trail (where mine no doubt came from), Horseshoe Lake in Illinois, and of course up the Illinois River Valley north of Alton. Also, if you combine this little bird hunt up the Illinois River around late October, you will find one of the more stunning views of fall foliage in the Midwest. Plan it, and knock out “two birds with one stone.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one.

Remember: Keep on Chuggin’!

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