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Old Friday 24th May 2019, 22:05   #1
Larry Sweetland
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sparrow UK

Since at least last year (apparently) there's been an unusual sparrow near my house. At the end of march this year pics were posted publicly, and in early April it looked like this https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-UGd1bWs86...Chard%2529.jpg

It's continuous presence at it's favoured hangouts (which are easily publically viewable) have been regularly publicised on the local Avon birding website, on which Keith Vinicombe has contributed a post suggesting that it could possibly be an Italian Sparrow, but this bird has received almost zero attention from local birders, so I thought I'd chuck it up here, in case anyone elsewhere might be interested in building up a picture of the pattern of occurance of phenotypically similar birds in the UK.

As was suggested by KV, the grey tips to the crown feathers have worn off to some extent by now, but the bird doesn't (at least yet) have a clean chestnut crown. Some pics over the last couple of days can be found here, thanks to local photographer Richard Scantlebury https://www.flickr.com/photos/richscats/

To my mind, the bird now doesn't look too dissimilar to this bird which is (apparently) an Italian Sparrow
oops,wrong link...I'll try find it in a bit...ok I'm rubbish at computers, but just found the pic I was trying to link to, and it's the bird from Tuscany on the wikipedia entry for Italian Sparrow, which has more grey in the crown than our bird currently does.

One thing I am trying to ascertain is whether or not there is more than one bird that looks like this in our colony ( which is presumably possible if it is itself a locally born hybrid), so my main question is this:- Is it possible to identify an individual sparrow by the presence/prominence of a white supra-loral streak and white post ocular spot, or are these features variably visible on a single individual, depending on how the adjacent feathers are being erected/flattened by the bird or by the wind? I am asking this because although I have yet to see two weird ones at once, images and observations in the field have been of a bird either with or without a white post ocular spot, and with the supra-loral streak variably prominent. Apologies for not knowing what's probably a very basic thing I should know by now about bird id!

Anyway, even if there's just one of these things round here, it's a pretty stunning bird, standing out with its white cheeks, pale unds, and more richly rufous background colour to its ups and flight feathers than its Housey companions. It comes down to food in an alley, it's always there, but no-one seems bothered about trying to get any ringers involved in trying to get a DNA sample to work out what it might be. Am I missing something? Has everyone got one of these in their yard? I guess it's not really interesting if you can't tick it as something. For me though, I can't help but find the concept of even a hybrid Spanish x House Sparrow (let alone a potential first for Britain) being regularly reported as being 100m from my house for months without attracting any birders, quite amusing :)

Any thoughts?

It's on Huyton Rd near Eastville Park if anyone wants to see it. Happy to give more details if anyone's interested.

Last edited by Larry Sweetland : Friday 24th May 2019 at 22:22.
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Old Monday 27th May 2019, 06:06   #2
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Not really contributing much here Larry, but it’s certainly an interesting bird. Looks certainly to be s hybrid with some non-House Sparrow genes in there.

I have previously noticed a couple of Male House Sparrows with very similar white cheeks, as opposed to the normal grey ones, at my parents house in Cheshire, but just put this down to individual variation. They did not have the faint white eye line like your bird, nor the rufous crown.
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Old Monday 27th May 2019, 06:33   #3
Larry Sweetland
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Thanks Nick. It would be interesting to know how many birds that look like the one in Bristol get seen in th UK, and don't get widely known about.
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Old Monday 27th May 2019, 07:47   #4
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What do the Avon birders say? One guy posted it up as an Italian Sparrow but what was the response? Obviously, not much of a response - but is it oh its just a strange sparrow or is it an escape or is it waiting for someone to be more positive...

That said there was discussion about Italian/Spanish Sparrow on here somewhere - might be worth trying to find the post as there was, if I remember rightly, some fairly deep id pointers. I'll see if I can find it....
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Old Monday 27th May 2019, 08:21   #5
Larry Sweetland
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What do the Avon birders say? One guy posted it up as an Italian Sparrow but what was the response? Obviously, not much of a response - but is it oh its just a strange sparrow or is it an escape or is it waiting for someone to be more positive...

That said there was discussion about Italian/Spanish Sparrow on here somewhere - might be worth trying to find the post as there was, if I remember rightly, some fairly deep id pointers. I'll see if I can find it....
Hi Charles. I think the thread you're referring to was about a recent widely twitched individual in Devon, that also resembled an Italian Sparrow. DNA was taken, and it was found at least not to be from mainland Italy. Not sure if it's parentage was determined any further than that in the end, but since then I think there might be a culture of non-interest in "Italian-looking" sparrows developing in the UK. Especially as there must be a pretty good chance of even a genetically matching one being ship assisted.

Some local birders may well have been slong to check out this bird (though I never see any in Huyton Rd), and no-one appears interested in trapping it.

To clarify though, no-one's actually claiming that it is an Italian Sparrow. But so far I've also yet to hear anyone explain why it isn't.
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Old Monday 27th May 2019, 08:31   #6
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There also was an phenotypical Italian Sparrow in NE-Germany last spring:

www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=362704

The bird was gone after a few days but meanwhile a sample of this bird has been genetically analysed. If I understand correctly the sparrows are so closely related that to separate Italian, Spanish and House Sparrow safely one would need to analyse the whole genome or microsatellites. This was too expensive but a certain region of genes (after ELGVIN et al., 2011) could be examined with the outcome that this bird has no House Sparrow in it. Well, that's something...
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Old Monday 27th May 2019, 08:40   #7
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Thanks Roland, that's interesting. I figured it must be a really tricky thing to determine even with a DNA sample.
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Old Monday 27th May 2019, 10:43   #8
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Looks a lot like the ones I see in my garden along with the tree sparrows and house sparrows. Surely a hybrid between those two has to be thoroughly ruled out before considering rare vagrants.
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Old Monday 27th May 2019, 11:38   #9
Larry Sweetland
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Looks a lot like the ones I see in my garden along with the tree sparrows and house sparrows. Surely a hybrid between those two has to be thoroughly ruled out before considering rare vagrants.
Michael
That's interesting. Do you have a any pics of these birds? And do they show features such as a white supra-loral line, and rich rufous background colour to mantle? I must admit I don't see Tree Sparrows that often (they're a rarity in Avon). If anything, this bird is on the bulky side for a House Sparrow. Tree being in the mix didn't really seem like an option, but who knows.

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Old Wednesday 29th May 2019, 10:56   #10
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Sorry I've had a root around and can't find pictures (I know I took some) and we don't have any visiting at the moment to take new ones. It's the rufous mixed with grey on the crown together with light cheek on what otherwise looks like a male house sparrow that is familiar.
Yes, i lived in Bristol for 7 years and never saw a tree sparrow. I've never really been sure why they are distributed the way they are, we have loads up here in Falkirk.

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Old Thursday 30th May 2019, 08:08   #11
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It's on Huyton Rd near Eastville Park if anyone wants to see it. Happy to give more details if anyone's interested.
Yes please.... looks very similar to the devon bird.
Might have some time to sit and wait for it to do a poo..
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Old Thursday 30th May 2019, 14:38   #12
Larry Sweetland
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Yes please.... looks very similar to the devon bird.
Might have some time to sit and wait for it to do a poo..
Ok, Huyton Rd is a very short road near Eastville Park. It runs between Fishponds Rd and Thingwall Park.

Coming from the Fishponds rd end, the bird regularly visits a hole in the roof of the last House on the left of Huyton rd, 4 tiles down from the front apex. It also regularly sits on that house's roof.

Half way along Huyton rd is an alley on the right with some garages. The bird regularly spends time in the tall hedge here, and comes down to food if you scatter it in this alley. I've generally found morning up to lunchtime are best for not having to wait for more than 5 mins to see it. Lots of House Sparrows present.

I'm away this week. Good luck
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