Not the spar­row you ex­pect!

Middlesbrough Herald & Post - - NEWS -

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 eric.pay­lor@gmail.com

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