Eurasian Tree Sparrow at Satay by the Bay 16 Jan 2016. Photo: Lim Kim Chuah
Contributed by Lim Kim Chuah.
Most of us must be familiar with the ubiquitous Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus. These little brown birds are often seen picking scraps of food and leftovers in our hawker centers and neighbourhood coffee shops. Not known to many though, is the existence of a second species of sparrow in Singapore, the similar looking House Sparrow Passer domesticus.
Unlike the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, House Sparrow is sexually dimorphic. The male House Sparrow wears a grey cap , not a chestnut cap as that in the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. It also has a large diffused black bib extending to the breast area and lacks the black ear coverts (patches) found in Eurasian Tree Sparrow. The female House Sparrow is mostly pale brown with a buffy supercilium and underparts.
The first sighting of the House Sparrow in Singapore was reported at Jalan Kukoh off Chin Swee Road in 1995 (Terence Tan in litt 1995). Subsequently, a small population of up to 20 individuals was found breeding at the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Market in September 1997 by Dave Thompson, a visiting birder. He told Kenneth Kee of the find when they met at Sungei Buloh. How this flock of House Sparrow arrived here is a mystery. Some theorised that these House Sparrows might have been stowaways on board vessels calling on our ports. The wholesale center with its abundance of spilled grains and food would have been an ideal location for this species to colonise and eventually build a stronghold. However this population never grew large and it in fact declined over the years. Despite intense efforts to find the species here by Big Year birders in 2014, none were found.
House Sparrow taken in Thailand Jan 2015. Photo: Lim Kim Chuah
A second population of the House Sparrow has since been found in Singapore. I chanced upon one male on Jurong Island in 2002 not far from the island’s food court, Oasis. It’s puzzling why this species decided to inhabit in an island that is home to Singapore’s massive chemical and petrochemical industries although it may be possible that it faces less competition here from the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. In 2008, I was surprised to find birds nesting in eaves of the security guard house in another part of Jurong Island. Further surveys found more nests in eaves of warehouses and also in open spaces under the metal staircases outside buildings. I did a quick survey last year and estimated that there were probably not more than 12 pairs of nesting birds here.
Are there other populations of the House Sparrow in other parts of Singapore? Hope some of you reading this post will help find the answer.
Lim, K.S. (2009). The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore.
Yong D.L., Lim, K.C. & Lee T.K. (2013). Birds of Singapore, John Beaufoy