Can you spot the ‘Tree’ among the ‘Houses’? Tree Sparrows are the country cousins of the ‘townie’ House Sparrow, more likely to be encountered in villages and rural areas though often alongside House Sparrows in winter months. This slightly smaller resident sparrow has seen a period of huge decline, followed in some areas by a resurgence. Recent decades have seen nestbox schemes in many areas seemingly prompt a recovery in Tree Sparrow numbers.
Tree Sparrows will readily take to nest boxes in gardens, I now have a small colony of Tree Sparrows that are almost ever-present around the garden and surrounding scrub. Three pairs reared several broods last year and though some were predated by the local Magpies enough survived to ensure a small flock of 20-30 are never too far from ear-shot. They are quite prolific breeders with two broods each year the norm and odd pairs even attempting a third brood.
I find that the Tree Sparrows are happy with any small-seeded mix or sunflower hearts and crowd the feeders shortly after they are re-stocked. They provide a different take on ‘how many people can you crowd into a Mini’ by squeezing into the spaces of the caged feeders so that there can be a melee of sparrow bodies at peak times, so much so they can prove difficult to count! Just occasionally a House Sparrow emerges from the throng too. It never ceases to amaze me that even after short periods when I don’t top the feeders up to provide a break in feeding they turn up back on the feeders within an hour of topping them up.
Slightly smaller and brighter than House Sparrows, the all-chestnut crown, smaller black bib and white cheeks give a cleaner appearance to the Tree Sparrow. With time the calls can be learned as they are subtly different to the House Sparrow and the sharper ‘chup’ can be picked out among unseen birds in cover. House Sparrows and Tree Sparrows seem to tolerate each other at the feeders and despite being larger the House Sparrows don’t appear to dominate, in fact the smaller Tree Sparrows can be surprisingly feisty when it comes to defending it’s place in the pecking order.
Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.