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The Eurasian Tree Sparrow in Urban Singapore

on 21st November 2005

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

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

10 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. 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.

  3. 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…

  4. Pingback: passer montanus
  5. 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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