This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
The Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Fig. 35, included in the Coni-rostral sub-family of the Fringillinae or true Finches, is well known as the Common or House-sparrow. The average length of this species is 6 in., and they have the top of the head coloured of a slatey grey, the throat is black, and the latter colour passes over the eyes from the base of the head. The smaller wing coverts may be marked with white, the breast is greyish-brown, and the under-parts a dirty white, inclining to brown. Sometimes black, pied, brown, or even white varieties are seen. The nest is placed in trees and shrubs, in holes in hayricks, thatch, walls and trees, in rainwater pipes, under the eaves of houses, in ivy-clad walls and trees, and, according to some observers, in the nests of the house marten and swallow. The nest is usually made of straw, hay or dried grasses, more or less in the form of an oval ball with an opening into it at the side, and is rarely found more than a mile from human dwellings. Five or six eggs are laid, of a bluish-white ground colour, variously blotched or speckled with brownish or blackish markings.
Each pair of birds may rear two or three broods during the summer.
Fig. 35. - The Common or House-sparrow and Young.
In habits no birds are more active or fearless than the common sparrows. They mingle freely with man, and frequent the busiest haunts of trade for the purpose of picking up food. The denizens of towns are generally of a dingier hue than those of the country. The food consists of grain, seeds, and general waste of food-stuffs in town and country, being in this respect a general scavenger, acting usefully by consuming weed-seeds in farmyards and elsewhere. House-sparrows also feed upon aphides, certain caterpillars, and other insects, fully 50 per cent. of the food on which the young are reared consisting of insect larvae. In the garden sparrows eat the tops of pea-plants, winter spinach, and lettuce, pluck up "springing" onion, radish, turnip, beet (eating the leaves), and all the Bras-sica tribe seeds; destroy the blooms of crocus, primrose, polyanthus, and carnation (eating the tender "grass"), and demolish the buds of currant and gooseberry bushes, plum trees, and, some say, pear and apple trees.
In allotments and fields the sparrows, adults and young of the season, deserting the towns and villages scanty fare, including the poultry and pig-trough supplies, devastate wheat, barley and oat crops, commencing the onslaught as soon as the grain is fairly swelled in the ear, so that in the vicinity of towns the profitable cultivation of cereals becomes well-nigh impossible.
The Tree-sparrow (Passer montanus) is a near relative of the house-sparrow, being included in the same genus. This is distinguished by the bill being broad at its base, and slightly scooped at its tip. The nostrils are partly concealed by the feathers, and the wings have their second and third quills longest. The tail is of moderate size. The tree-sparrow is known by its chestnut-coloured head, by the cheeks possessing a black patch of triangular shape, and by the belly being of a brownish-white colour. The neck may be encircled with a white streak, and the lower wing coverts are black. The average length is from 4½ to 5½ in. The nest is generally built in trees, the eggs being of a dull white colour, spotted with brown. The young appear to be chiefly fed with larvae of insects, small caterpillars being most seen in the bills of the parents. The tree-sparrow is much rarer and more locally distributed than the house-sparrow, and not nearly so familiar.