Also, a behaviour of
high up in the eucalyptus ... move very quickly through the foliage and in the air and are shy at being observed whilst not diagnostic either way, just seems to me to be 4
different comments, each of which individually and certainly in combination are very odd bits of behaviour for
Tree Sparrows (or House Sparrows). I wouldn’t associate them normally with being high in trees, or moving quickly (any more than other small birds), they have no need to
move quickly in trees, as I doubt that they would feed much in trees, or being shy, they are generally approachable and at least when common, will happily hop around your feet.
From: Philip Veerman [
Sent: Wednesday, 21 December, 2016 11:28 PM
To: 'strong.margaret strong.margaret'
Subject: RE: [canberrabirds] Tree sparrows in Calwell
Sorry, I wonder and have to ask....... Are you really sure? Not sure if I can be tempted to go to Calwell.... On what basis are these Tree Sparrows? As in what
visual actual description do you have? They are not reliably previously recorded in Canberra. Or so rarely that I don’t know of any. Certainly I have never encountered one around Canberra. A group would be really odd, as (at least in Australia) they are nowhere
near as good dispersers or travellers as the House Sparrow is. And they are not common anywhere near to Canberra. The COG website says “Rare non-breeding
visitor. May be under-reported.” but I reckon that is an over statement.
I studied the social behaviour of the Tree Sparrows and House Sparrows for a year for my honours thesis, so I know them well. I think it very odd to describe
their call as “a musical whistle, quicker and more varied than house sparrows”. Their call is different, a harsher, short deeper tone cheeps, sort of more mechanical sound than the House Sparrow and I can’t think of any greater variety of sounds. They don’t
have any long call notes or sequences that I would call whistling or even musical. Hard to describe but I can pick the difference easily. At this time of year you might be hearing the communal display of House Sparrows, during which you hear a rapid fire
twittering. The males gang up in a group and vigorously pursue one female, typically in densely foliaged parts of a tree, until she manages to fly away. The book by J.D. Summers-Smith about the House Sparrow describes it in detail. It appears to be a part
of courting behaviour, early in the breeding season, although not usually associated with mating. But sorry I am not even convinced about that is what you are seeing. As far as I know, neither species is known for ever indulging in vocal mimicry. And I happen
to have studied mimicry too.
From: strong.margaret strong.margaret [
Sent: Wednesday, 21 December, 2016 10:29 PM
Subject: [canberrabirds] Tree sparrows in Calwell
Heard by me at varying times everyday on Loader Crescent Calwell, between Langlands and Samuel Close, as I've been renovating my rental property nearby. The call is a musical whistle, quicker and more varied than house sparrows but
with a recognisable sparrow tone. I've seen them only occasionally as they are high up in the eucalyptus on Loader Crescent or tall shrubs in nearby gardens. They move very quickly through the foliage and in the air and are shy at being observed. Last
Friday, in between rain showers, they were very vocal and I saw four together moving through my garden.
The most entertaining observations of the tree sparrows has been them mimicking the song of the resident blackbird. I've heard this every day in the past week, always in the afternoon and usually between 3.30-4.30pm. The tree sparrow's rendition is
faster paced, softer and shorter than the blackbird, but the mimicry can be clearly heard.
I don't have any photos or recordings to share, but if anyone in the vacinity with time to spare wants to try it would be an entertaining challenge. Even if I had the skills, I'm hard pressed for time in my renovations - but I will put these observations
onto eBird in the near future.