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Eurasian Tree Sparrow

(Passer montanus)

General Information

In 1870, a bird dealer in St. Louis, Missouri received a mixed shipment of songbirds imported from Germany. Among those birds were about two dozen Eurasian Tree Sparrows. In late April of that year, in a effort to enhance North American avifauna, these birds were set free in Lafayette Park in St. Louis. This founder population managed to establish a viable breeding population of from 25,000 to 150,000 individuals that now extends along the Mississippi River in eastern Missouri and west-central Illinois and north to southeastern Iowa.

Vagrants, mostly in the winter months, have been reported from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Ontario, and Indiana. Occurrences of this species in the west (Oregon, Manitoba, and British Columbia) are thought to be either escaped cage birds or stowaways on sea going vessels from the orient.

These birds are native to Europe and Asia from the UK eastward into China and Japan, northward to the Tundra regions of Siberia and southward to the middle east, northern India, Taiwan and southeast Asia.

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow resembles the House Sparrow, but the black throat patch is smaller. Sexes are similar. These birds are about 5.5 inches long with a wingspan of 8.5 inches. Birds weigh about 3/4 of an ounce (23.5 grams).

 

 

Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Figure 1 - Eurasian Tree Sparrow

 

Eurasian Tree Sparrow face
Figure 2 - Eurasian Tree Sparrow face

 

One of the distinguishing field marks is the black ear patch on the white cheek. The bill is black.

Another distinguishing field mark is the reddish-brown crown. The crown of the House Sparrow is gray.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow crown
Figure 3 - Eurasian Tree Sparrow crown

 

Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Figure 4 - Eurasian Tree Sparrow

 

This is another view of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Careful study of these images will help you to distinguish this species from the similar House Sparrow.

 

 

The upper wing is brown, and the coverts brown and reddish-brown, with black and a bit of white trim.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow upper wing
Figure 5 - Eurasian Tree Sparrow upper wing

 

American Queen on Mississippi River
Figure 6 - American Queen on Mississippi River

 

At the time of their release in 1870, steamboats were in their heyday, and plied America’s River systems. It is thought that steamboats assisted in dispersal of these birds along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers when sparrows, perching on the boats, hitched rides from port to port. This mode of dispersal may occur even today, even on modern steamboats such as the American Queen, seen here on the Mississippi River above St. Louis. (Notice that the stacks have been lowered to pass under a bridge).

 

These sparrows prefer farm country and city parks, especially where water or ponds occur. This farm is a typical habitat where Eurasian Tree Sparrows can be found in gregarious flocks of up to 50 individuals, often mixed with House Sparrows.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow habitat
Figure 7 - Eurasian Tree Sparrow habitat

Nesting Behavior

Both parents build an untidy cup or domed nest of plant materials and twigs. The nest is usually placed in a cavity or hole in a cliff, wall, pipe or haystack. Both the male and the female incubate a clutch of 4 to 6 eggs (female at night, male and female during day). Eggs hatch in 10 to 12 days. Both parents feed young that fledge in about 2 weeks. Pairs are double or sometimes triple brooded.

Banding Recoveries

According to the web page of the Bird Banding Lab, a total of 1,770 Eurasian Tree Sparrows were banded between 1955 and 2000. Of these, only 8 have been encountered outside of the area where they were banded. Fledglings disperse short distances from their nest. Banding studies show that these birds are sedentary, and can live up to 12 years in the wild. One individual banded in Illinois was caught in the same area four years later.

If you should recover a banded bird, you can report the band number to the Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-BAND.

Economic Importance and Conservation Status

These birds did not experience the explosive population growth and range expansion that was seen in the House Sparrow. Population estimates range from 2,500 individuals in the 1960’s to as many as 150,000 in the mid 1980’s.

Eurasian Tree Sparrows do not disperse far from their nest, and are out-competed by House Sparrows for nest sites. Fledgling House Sparrows, however, disperse much greater distances from their nest. These factors likely account for the relatively limited dispersal of Eurasian Tree Sparrows in the last 130 plus years.

Their diet consists of grains such as corn, wheat, mixed bird seed millet and sunflower seeds. Insects are also taken.

They are not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but they do enjoy state protection by the Illinois Department of Conservation. They will use a nest box similar to those used by the Eastern Bluebird, but the entrance hole should be less than 29 mm to exclude the slightly larger House Sparrow.

This species is of interest to the birding community, and many tourists travel to St. Louis and surrounding areas to view and study it. As a result, ecotourism related to this species brings in tourist dollars to local communities. Directions to locations where this species can be readily observed are at various sites on the Internet.

References

Baicich, P. J. and C. J. O. Harrison. 1997. A guide to the nests, eggs and nestlings of North American Birds, 2nd edition. Academic Press, New York.

Barlow, J. C. and S. N. Leckie. 2000. Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus). In The Birds of North America, No. 560 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, D. Wheye, and S. L. Pimm. 1994. The birdwatcher’s handbook. A guide to the natural history of the birds of Britain and Europe. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Flint, V. E., R. L. Boehme, Y. V. Kostin, A. A. Kuznetsov. 1984. A field guide to birds of the USSR. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Peterson, R. T. and V. M. Peterson. 2002. A field guide to the birds of eastern and central North America, 5th edition. Houghton Mifflin Co., New York.

Sonobe, K. and J. W. Robinson, editors. 1986. A field guide to the birds of Japan. Wild Bird Society of Japan. Kodansha International LTD. San Francisco, CA.

Terres, J. K. 1995. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Wings Books, Avenel, NJ.

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