Sunday, 10 April 2016

Know your sparrow...

Chasing Sparrows of Indian Subcontinent...

Sparrows - the so very common birds of my yesteryears - that have become an object of so much study/controversy/speculation etc. Why the population of the sparrows have declined over the years - Fertilisers? Pesticides? Mobile towers? All probable reasons are there for anyone who wants to read between the lines and justify whatever theory they support. Personally I would say - all of the above with an additional - add loss of habitats, basically due to the box designs of our modern living spaces, especially in places like villages also, where earlier the houses were more of cottages with a lot of nooks and corners. These nooks and corners gave a lot of room for the birds to build nests and breed. Okay, I would not like to dwell any more in to all this and just cover the beautiful sparrows of India.

To start with the sparrow are small Stubby-billed birds with predominantly brown and grey plumages - some with a varied amount of black on the heads. They belong to genus Passer All these birds frequently feed on the ground.

Grimmett and Inskipp book of Birds of Indian Subcontinent list six sparrows in the Indian subcontinent. They being: -
  1. House Sparrow: covering the entire Sub-continent.
  2. Spanish Sparrow: visits North and North-Western continent.
  3. Sind Sparrow: basically seen all along the Indus Valley from present state of Indian Punjab, Pakistan's Punjab and Sind - along as the river flows.
  4. Russet Sparrow: Bird all along the Himalayas
  5. Eurasian Tree Sparrow: Wide spread resident of entire Europe, Russia and North India along with the Himalayas
  6. Dead Sea Sparrow: A bird that has eluded me so far - but then it is shown as the resident of Extreme West Afghanistan in the Subcontinent.
House Sparrow: A bird that the decline of which has prompted the ‘World Sparrow Day’ (every 20th March, an initiative of Nature Forever Society of India). A beautiful bird that I have often spent hours catching and releasing in my childhood. If this bird would enter any room in our village I would shut off the fan (lest I hurt it) then throw some soft cloth on it till it was tired enough for me to catch it. I know - thinking back it was cruel - but that is the way it used to be. I would then admire it for some time in my hands and then release it. The male has a grey crown and a black throat with chestnut brown on sides and nape. I do remember clearly a decline in these birds, but thankfully there seems to be a comeback in many a places and have started hearing the chirp again.

House Sparrows, male in centre...

Spanish Sparrow: Sighted many a times but since the time I have been having the better version of digital camera to capture it - I do not remember coming across it, perhaps because I have not visited the Western region of the country during winters when they come. Unlike the grey crown of the House sparrow, this bird (male) has a Chestnut crown and extensive streaking on the breast, flanks and belly.

Spanish Sparrow, the streaking is so very pronounced...

Sind Sparrow: This bird can easily be disregarded as a house sparrow because they are so bloody alike. At 13 cm it is 2 cm smaller than the house sparrow, has a Grey nape (rather than chestnut of House sparrow) with the Chestnut of the head making a broad present around the ear-coverts. It also has a finer bill than House Sparrow.

Sind Sparrow, Notice the small Black Throat vis a vis House Sparrow (Photo credits Rajive Das, Chandigarh Birds)
Sind Sparrow (male) (Photo credit Rajive Das, Chandigarh Birds)

Russet Sparrow: It would be a shame to call this bird any more beautiful than the rest - but personally this is my favourite. The breeding male has a bright Chestnut coloration to the mantle and variable yellow wash on underparts and ear coverts.

The beautiful male Russet Sparrow...
Another male from Satal/Pangot area

Eurasian Tree Sparrow: A male with dull chestnut crown and a small black spot on ear coverts and throat. The size is more or less of a house sparrow only. A bird with both sexes alike - makes the identification of female of the species easier.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Dead Sea Sparrow: I am sorry but this is the end of sparrows for me for the time being. Haven’t seen one till now - so will wait till I see it first hand.

If you would have noticed I have hardly talked about the females of any of the above species (expect Eurasian tree sparrow) since I do get pretty confused in their company and look forward to seeing a male to identify the bird, and males are always there...
Yellow-throated Sparrow (Chestnut-shouldered Petronia): Let me start - Petronia is not a sparrow - but since in the yesteryears it was called a Yellow-throated Sparrow and looks (somewhat) like sparrow. I will post a picture here. It does not belong to genus Passer. What is interesting is that it is said to be this bird that kindled the interest of Dr Salim Ali to stop shooting birds and start studying them.

No points for guessing why it was ever called a Yellow-throated Sparrow

Same bird, different angle
Nothing at all can explain the Sparrows of India like Mr Rohan has done in his caricatures of sparrows.... Hey mind you - the females in the caricature below are still as complicated as in real life... ?
Reproduced with permission from Mr Rohan Chakravarty of