An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the House Sparrow
Feb 08, 2018 10:37AM
● By Paul Spear
This weekly column provides photos of birds photographed locally in the Tijuana Estuary or on IB's beaches along with background on the bird.
This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the House sparrow (Passer domesticus), a small bird, that has a typical length of 16 cm (6.3 in) and a mass of 24–39.5 g (0.85–1.39 oz). Females and young birds are colored pale brown and grey, and males have brighter black, white, and brown markings.
One of the most widespread and abundant songbirds in the world today, the House sparrow has
a simple success formula: it associates with humans. Native to Eurasia and northern Africa, it has succeeded in urban and farming areas all over the world -- including North America, where it was first released at New York in 1851. Tough, adaptable, aggressive, it survives on city sidewalks where few birds can make a living; in rural areas, it may evict native birds from their nests by competing for nest sites and food. Eastern populations peaked around 1900, and have been gradually declining in recent years.
Habitats are in cities, towns, and farms. General surroundings vary, but in North America they are essentially always found around manmade structures, and never in unaltered natural habitats.
They forage mostly while hopping on ground, but may perch on weed stalks to reach seeds. Adaptable in seeking food, they may take smashed insects from the fronts of parked cars, or search tree bark for insects. Their diet consists of mostly seeds. In most situations, the great majority of their diet is weed and grass seeds or waste grain. House sparrows will also eat some insects, especially in summer. In urban surroundings, they also scavenge for crumbs of food left by humans.
After mating, females usually lay 3-6, sometimes 2-7, rarely 1-8, whitish to greenish white, with brown and gray dots concentrated toward larger end eggs. Incubation is by both parents in about 10-14 days. Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave their nests about 2 weeks after hatching. House sparrows yield 2-3 broods per year.
In courtship, males display by hopping near females with their tails raised, wings drooped, chests puffed out, with bowing and chirping. They often breed in small colonies. Pairs defend only a small territory in the immediate vicinity of their nests, chasing away all intruders. Nests are usually in an enclosed niche such as a cavity in a tree, a hole in a building, a rain gutter, a birdhouse, or the nests of other birds. Where such sites are scarce, they will nest in the open in tree branches. Nests, built by both parents, are made of material such as grass, weeds, twigs, and trash, often lined with feathers. The inside is an enclosed space, and material forms the foundation. In open sites, nests are a globular mass with an entrance on the side.
It is easy to spot this common species in the Tijuana Estuary among the low shrubs near the McCoy Trail.
Enjoy walking or biking on their many trails. Until next week, happy birding!
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