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 Tree Sparrow- Fact File
Tree Sparrow
Passer montanus
Widely but locally distributed in England, Wales and lowland Scotland. Marked decrease in population in recent years.
Mostly nest in holes, and therefore found in mature wooded areas, or where cliffs or quarries provide suitable nest sites.

Sexes similar. Differs from male House Sparrow in having a chestnut crown, and white cheeks with black spot.

14cm



Tree Sparrow

When did you last see any tree sparrows? The question is regularly posed. One occasion for myself was with a small group as we walked along a green trackway at Choseley, near Titchwell. Seeding grasses had attracted them, together with goldfinches and chaffinches.
A glance through early issues of the Norfolk Bird Report indicates that tree sparrows were at times abundant. An impressive flock of 1500 remained over two months on Cley Eye in 1957. The following year over a thousand were reported at Stiffkey. A year later a similar total assembled along Hunstanton cliffs with many heading west across the mouth of the Wash.

Just over a decade ago my own diary records 700 tree sparrows in a partly cleared sugar beet field on the edge of St Benet's Level marsh. As recently as 1990 the Nar Valley Ornithological Society reported 80 at Downham Market, 100 at Shingham and 60 at Flitcham.

My earliest recognition work was the three-volume Birds of the British Isles by T A Coward, splendidly illustrated with Archibald Thorburn's plates. Coward described the tree sparrow "in winter visiting stackyards, flocking with other sparrows and finches.

"A gregarious bird at all seasons; a grove of old trees with a plentiful supply of hollows or a disused quarry are favourite sites. . . the haunts of man are now always shunned, for old thatch in a barn or cottage will also shelter a colony."

It certainly seemed that the many changes in the countryside had all proved too much for these often unobtrusive birds, content to creep along the ground picking around for food. But then I chanced upon an interesting series covering changes in status among breeding birds in Britain written by John Parslow in British Birds magazine. These essays appeared at the close of the 1960s.

John considered "there had been a general increase in tree sparrow numbers since about 1958 with an explosive range expansion during 1961-66 when breeding colonies were established in many parts of Scotland, Ireland and Wales from which the species had been absent for up to a quarter-century or had never previously been known to breed.

The cause of the increase is not known but in many areas. . . it followed an earlier phase of decrease which lasted through the greater part of the first half of this century."

By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.