The Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus, breeds over most of Europe and Siberia, and allied forms occur in other parts of Asia. It has been introduced to Australia, and the United States (where it is known as the Eurasian Tree Sparrow or German Sparrow to differentiate it from the native, unrelated American Tree Sparrow), where German immigrants introduced it to the area around St. Louis in the 1870s. From there, it has slowly expanded its range into Illinois and Missouri. Changes in farming methods have meant that this species is declining in some parts of western Europe.
The Tree Sparrow is approximately 12.5"?14 cm long. The adult's crown and nape are rich chestnut, and on the white cheeks and ear-coverts there are a triangular black patch; the chin and throat are often stated to be black, but are infact a much richer shade of dark grey. Two distinct though narrow white bars cross the brown wings. In summer the bill is lead-blue, and in winter almost black. The legs are pale brown and the irides hazel. The sexes are practically alike.
The young, even in the nest, closely resemble their parents. They are said to be duller, and the face pattern is less distinct. The breast and belly are browner than in the adult.
The Tree Sparrow's voice is more shrill than the House Sparrow's; the call is a shorter chip, and the song, consisting of modulated chirps, is more musical. Their songs are said to be consistently in the key of G Major.
This bird is often confused with the larger House Sparrow, but its rich brown, almost coppery head, the black patch on its white cheeks, and the double white wing bar, together with its slighter and more graceful build, are distinctive.
Habitat and breeding
The Tree Sparrow is rural in Europe, but replaces its relative as a town bird in parts of Asia. In the Philippines, it can be located in both rural areas, cities, and towns, where they can be seen gathering and perching along electric wires, especially in twilight. In Australia, it is found in some rural and semi-rural districts, but not cities. The small American population is sometimes referred to as "German Sparrows", to distinguish it from the native species as well as the vast numbers of "English" House Sparrows.
Though occasionally nesting in isolated trees, it is a gregarious bird at all seasons, and a grove of old trees with a plentiful supply of hollows, or a disused quarry, are favourite sites for the colony; what it likes is a hole in which to put its untidy nest, composed of hay, grass, wool or other material and lined with feathers.
Some of the nests are not actually in holes in rock, but are built among roots of overhanging furze or other bushes. The haunts of man are not always shunned, for old thatch in a barn or cottage will shelter a colony. A domed nest, like that of the House Sparrow, is sometimes built in the old nest of a Magpie or other bird.
The four to six eggs, usually five, are smaller and, as a rule, browner than those of the House Sparrow. They vary considerably, and frequently the markings are massed at one end. In most clutches one egg is lighter and differs in markings from the others.
- The fluttering courtship movements of sparrows, the Tree Sparrow in particular, inspired the Japanese traditional dance suzume odori, literally "sparrow dance".
- In the Philippines, where it is known as maya, the Tree Sparrow is the most common bird in the cities. Although many urban Filipinos think it was the national bird, the former national bird of the Philippines is actually the Black-headed Munia, another species also known as maya.
- The Tree Sparrow plays a major role in the manga series, Sparrow, as the symbol of life in battle.
A first summer
Nest and eggs (A)
Roof tile clearance (B)
Grass area (C)
Images A-C show the nest of a Tree Sparrow made under a small space in the roof tiles of a wooden house in Japan. The nest is bowl-shaped, 5"?6 cm in diameter, and about 4 cm deep. The egg is grey marked with light brownish, 1.5 cm long and 1 cm across. The material of the nest is mainly grass. A roof tile is about 30 cm square.