Not the sparrow you expect!
CHECK out those sparrows in your garden because they might not always be what they appear to be.
Tree sparrows, the close cousins of our more familiar house sparrows, are becoming increasingly frequent visitors to bird feeders.
Like house sparrows, tree sparrows like to move around in small flocks and are also primarily seed eaters.
At first glance they might be dismissed as house sparrows and in fact were not split from house sparrows as a separate species until 1720. However on closer inspection they have several different distinctive features.
The most obvious is that tree sparrows have a chocolate brown cap. Male house sparrows, by comparison, have a grey crown. Another obvious difference is that tree sparrows have a black patch on otherwise white cheeks and they also have smaller black bibs.
You will also notice that there are no “dull” tree sparrows because the males and females are almost identical.
This fine picture of a tree sparrow was taken at RSPB Saltholme by John Money.
The recent arrival of tree sparrows in gardens is a godsend for the species, because they were struggling to survive the winters before discovering our feeders.
Numbers had dropped by around 90 per cent in this country though there has been a slight increase over the last couple of years. So make sure you keep your feeders topped up. You may be contributing towards the survival of the tree spar- row.
While seeking out the increasingly rare willow tit on Castle Eden Walkway recently I came across a huge flock of tree sparrows on some feeders.
This was good to see and also made the willow tits easy to pick out when they turned up, their white, black and grey colours contrasting against the chestnut brown backs of the sparrows.
From countryside to seaside, and a recent walk on the Tees estuary revealed lots of overwintering ducks such as shelducks, shovelers and teal. A couple of greenshanks and black tailed godwits added to a pleasurable walk.
Maybe the greatest delight was witnessing the golden blooms of coltsfoot pushing through everywhere.
These regular harbingers of spring were once used to treat colds, hence their Old English name of coughwort.
Now coltsfoot are known to cause liver disease so enjoy the flowers but look and do not touch.
Eric would like to hear from readers about what they have seen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org