Thursday, September 4, 2014

Russet Sparrow (Passer rutilans) Shan maque

(14-15 cm.) Male: Bright cinnamon crown and upperparts; black streaks on back; black throat; whitish cheeks. Female: dark brown upperparts; two conspicuous eye-stripes-one white, one dark

The Russet Sparrow is a chunky bird which looks much like any typical sparrow. In fact, its markings are very much like its close cousin, the much more ubiquitous, Eurasian House Sparrow. However, the male of this species bears plumage which is a shade of brown not often seen in sparrows, bright cinnamon. The striking bright cinnamon of the male Russet Sparrow’s back is a diagnostic marking that makes for quick identification in the field. Accordingly, the Russet Sparrow is often called the “Cinnamon Sparrow” or “Cinnamon Tree Sparrow.” Like all old world sparrows, this species is a member of the family, “Passeridae.”

As with many songbirds, this species exhibits “sexual dimorphism” in its plumage, as the males look much different than the females. In the case of songbirds, this means that the males are far more colorful and more attractive than the females.

The Chinese range of the Russet Sparrow comprises most of its world-wide range. It is found in the eastern half of China from Hong Kong and Taiwan as far north as the Shandong peninsula, and in Korea and Japan in the East and Northern India in the West. Throughout most of its Chinese range, the Russet Sparrow is a resident bird. It is a summer breeding visitor in the northern parts of its Chinese range.

The Russet Sparrow is a bird of open woodland and scrub near cultivation. In places where Eurasian Tree Sparrows are scarce, the Russet Sparrow can fill that bird’s niche in cities and villages.

The Russet Sparrow’s diet consists of mostly seeds which it collects while foraging on the ground like the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. In agricultural areas, this species can become a pest as it will damage grain crops through feeding; however, it will also so kill and collect many insect pests that damage crops to feed to its growing chicks.

During the breeding season, the male Russet Sparrow will choose a nesting site from which he will perform his courtship display. He will bob his head and puff his chest at passing females and eventually bow to a prospective mate in true Asian style. When a female accepts his advances, the pair of birds will build a nest in a tree cavity which is usually the abandoned nest of a woodpecker. The female will lay 5-6 glossy-white eggs.  In the northern parts of their breeding range, Russet Sparrows show a fondness for high altitudes as nesting sites.

Photo by JM Garg

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