The Eurasian Tree Sparrow

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Published on: May. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

gather in large and noisy congregations around city buildings, where they are considered nuisances.

It's seems odd that house sparrows could become so prevalent nationwide while Eurasian tree sparrows remain confined to the greater St. Louis area. Anderson, who studies both species, said that the Eurasian tree sparrow initially ranged mostly in Asia while the house sparrow ranged primarily in Europe, but even longer ago might have belonged to the same species. After they became isolated, one strain, house sparrows, evolved to become aggressive, while the Eurasian tree sparrows became meek.

No records indicate whether Eurasian tree sparrows have ever been released elsewhere in America. Most people in Missouri hope not. They like the celebrity status the species gives to St. Louis. The birds may not garner as much attention as the St. Louis Cardinals, the Rams, the Arch or Shaw's Garden, but they do attract avid birders from all over the United States.

For example, in May 1972, Dick Anderson, an expert St. Louis birder, received a phone call from the Pentagon at his place of work. The caller explained that James Schlesinger, President Carter's Secretary of Defense, and an avid birder, was in town on official business. They asked if Anderson, after work, might find a Eurasian tree sparrow for the Secretary to add to his life list.

Anderson agreed, of course, and met Schlesinger, who flew in by helicopter, at a high school football field. The two shook hands and were chauffeured to a known Eurasian tree sparrow haunt. He and Schlesinger not only saw a Eurasian tree sparrow, but they lingered to watch the May migration of warblers. At dusk, before they parted company, Anderson asked the Secretary how often he was able to get out birding. Schlesinger answered, "Not often, but it does help maintain my sanity when I do."

Locating Eurasian tree sparrows

Within St. Louis, Eurasian tree sparrows are common in residential neighborhoods southwest of Forest Park. I saw them there as a teenager many years ago, and they continue to nest in the same neighborhood.

Public areas often provide better possibilities for watching Eurasian tree sparrows. Good viewing sites include the Corps of Engineers Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area (Lock and Dam 26), North County Park, south of the I-270 bridge over the Mississippi River, at Winfield (Lock and Dam 25) and at Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Annana.

The Eurasian tree sparrow can also be found in scattered localities about the eastern, or floodplain, portion of St. Charles County and in numerous areas on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.

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