Saturday, July 5, 2014

Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer Montanus)

Field marks:  common; brown and white plumage, black throat cheek spot, reddish-brown crown (12-14 cm.) 麻雀 – má-què – ‘sparrow’
树麻雀 – shù má-què – ‘tree sparrow’ (Alternative in Cheng, M&P, Atlas)

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow is one of the commonest and perhaps the most familiar bird in Eastern China. It is found in every part of China, but it is the ubiquitous sparrow found in every city in the East of the country. In Western China, a similar species, the House Sparrow, is its ubiquitous city-dwelling counterpart. Like other birds with thick conical bills adapted for seed eating, it is a member of the finch family, “Passeridae.”

This bird is familiar to all people and it is often just referred to as “sparrow” or “ma que”. Those who are familiar with this species are probably unaware that it is not the only sparrow in the country. In fact, China has 12 sparrow species. However, besides the House Sparrow in the West, other sparrow species will rarely be encountered by Chinese city-dwellers.

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow is another omnivorous species that feeds by foraging on the ground for seeds and grains. In the summer breeding season, it will also partake of insects, millipedes, centipedes, and spiders.

This species should be appreciated despite its over-familiarity for its attractive appearance and the ease with which it keeps company with humans. In many places in China, however, this species is considered an enemy of the grain farmer as vast flocks of this bird can inflict significant damage to grain crops.

Mao Ze Dong famously attempted to eradicate this species in 1958 in order to save grain supplies. However, after initial success, many grain consuming insects on which the sparrows feed inflicted worse damage in the sparrows’ absence.

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow is a tree cavity nesting species that can also use a rock face containing a cavity as well. A female sparrow will typically lay 5-6 eggs. Young sparrows need up to a year to achieve full independence.

Before the advent of human civilization and the growth of cities, this species favored lightly wooded, open country. The birds still exist in these places, but urbanization has created city paradises for these birds to conquer.

Photo by Yiwenyiwen

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