The Eurasian Tree Sparrow in Urban Singapore

posted in: Species | 11

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) we commonly see around is actually adapted to human habitation. It usually nests in any convenient holes in buildings. Then why is it called a tree sparrow? The colonial Britisher who named it was obviously familiar with it back home as a common woodland bird. It is the House Sparrow (P. domesticus) that is actually found around houses in Europe.

So we ended up with a Eurasian Tree Sparrow around houses and not trees in this part of the world. Once a common bird, it is now slowly being displaced by the more aggressive mynas and crows. Also, many of their traditional nesting areas are being “fenced” off or sealed. Their food sources are also being reduced as food leftover in open-air hawker areas is rapidly removed by efficient cleaners. And not to mention, more and more hawkers are being relocated to air-conditioned outlets where these birds have no access.

Also, in modern Singapore, we are seeing the proliferation of high-rise buildings. And these sparrows are not slow in adapting to modern-day living, as Jeffrey Low, a marine biologist, was quick to notice.

Around his Housing Board block in Toa Payoh, he has seen these sparrows nesting in the electrical trunking boxes. Jeffrey is actually happy to see this new trend, as he would like to see the return of more sparrows as opposed to mynas and crows. Don’t we all?

Is this a common thing for sparrows to do? And could this adaptation to nesting in man-made structures be the cause their increase? Or is their resurgence due to some other factor? These are the questions that came to him as he pondered the issue of tree sparrows moving into HDB high-rise buildings.

R. Subaraj, our Bird Specialist, adds that this species follows man wherever he goes, even up hill resorts in the Malaysian mountains. It is a scavenger of human leftover food and for many years was a common sight around open-air food centres and coffeeshops. They roost and nest in roof spaces, light fittings or any other space found in a building.

Although this sparrow is common and everyone takes it for granted, we know relatively little about it. So birders, as well as sometime-birders, please provide more feedback on it – like its nesting habit and behavioural traits.

YC Wee, with Jeffrey Low and R Subaraj
Singapore
21st November 2005

11 Responses

  1. I bought & read Denis Summers-Smith’s books (In Search of Sparrows & The Sparrows: A Study of the Genus Passer) a couple of years ago and liked the books. Lots of information about Old World sparrows. They are available at the Library but not for borrowing :(
    For borrowing I guess mine are the only books available.

  2. THANKS SLOW. Will try get the book from, where else but Amazon.com. YC

  3. This is a very nice site. I was out looking for “kenmore 295 air cleaners” and found your blog in the process.

    Best of luck.

  4. I live in an urban area in the Philippines and I found lots of birds that are common, and these are the tree sparrows. I am very fascinated with these birds. Their songs and their behaviour in reacting with the urban life ecology. I’m feeding them with seeds in a feeder. Though traffic noice pollutes the area, their sounds somehow reminds me of the rural areas.

  5. Thanks for the note Aldrin. We here in Singapore are seeing fewer and fewer of such sparrows. They are slowly being replaced by mynas. We will be happy to post your observations on these sparrows…

  6. Alex Ong (eX.A.K.R.)

    Hmmm… just wanting to share something about my encounter with these sparrows here. I can’t remember some of it now, but this is what I can remember:

    I live on a second-floor HDB apartment unit, and opposite my bedroom window are some trees. My bedroom window is the floor-to-ceiling variety. Sometime ago, during a somewhat rainy day a few of these sparrows decided that the floor-running sills on the outside of my bedroom window were a good place to take shelter from the rain. I carefully observed the birds from within my bedroom, careful not to frighten them away. There was this one bird that sheltered by resting and leaning against one of the window’s corners. As the rain started to thin out, the sparrows increased their activity around my window, pecking for either food or grains of sand and flying to and from the window sill and the ground floor below. They all flew away some time later, on their own accord.

    In my opinion, whether it’s mynahs or sparrows, as long as they don’t make too much of a nuisance I don’t really mind, and in fact I could prefer to have these birds around my neighbourhood. Though the mynahs in my neighbourhood do have some violent tendencies – I often hear them squabbling and fighting, and there was once when I had to scare away a pair of mynahs that was attacking and pecking at a third mynah while the poor victim’s mate could only helplessly stand by and watch while making “keek, keek” noises.

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  11. Hi, I’m looking for fellow lovers of the Eurasian tree sparrows in Singapore. Would anyone know of any such online groups? Many thanks.

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