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Illegal Immigrants

October 19, 2021

House sparrows (Passer domesticus) are a native bird of Europe that has been introduced to many parts of the world, including Eastern Australia. They are not established yet in Western Australia, and that State wants to keep it that way. There is a hotline for anyone sighting a House Sparrow in WA and they will send out professionals to ‘disestablish’ them.

Back in the years when we used to travel, I was visiting Port Hedland in WA and in a touch of glorious irony, I was standing outside the Immigration Detention Centre in Port Hedland when I saw a small group of House Sparrows at the edge of the car park.  In this place where “illegal immigrants” were to be detained, some feathered ones had flown in. I rang the hotline and felt insulted when the person at the other end asked, Are you sure they are House Sparrows? Hmmph! I’m from Victoria.

Once the most common of introduced birds, House Sparrows are now in serious decline. They’re hard to find in Great Britain, in India, and getting less frequent in Australia. No one is sure just why – one study blames the rise of the mobile phone.

I still have a small flock at my place; they like our chook pen and the food it provides. I learnt an interesting fact about House Sparrows.  The male sports a fine black bib that functions much the same as the blue on male Superb Fairywrens: the colours are rich and bright in the breeding season but fade or dissipate in the off-season. Except for the Alpha males; these are dominant, at least 3 years old, high in the pecking order and carrying enough testosterone to sustain breeding colours in the non-breeding season.

In any flock of sparrows, watch out for the cock sparrows that have the biggest, blackest bib. They’ll be strutting and swaggering, shoving the commoners aside.

Cock sparrow in breeding plumage: black beak, and black bib

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