Wednesday, March 28, 2007 Japan Times

ANIMAL TRACKER By ROWAN HOOPER

* Japanese name: Suzume
* Scientific name: Passer montanus
* Description: A small bird, some 12.5- to 14-cm long, it has a rich brown-colored head, with a hint of copper. There is a black patch on the cheeks and a double white bar across the brown wings. Males and females are almost identical in size and plumage. On the ear coverts there is a distinctive triangular black patch, and the chin and throat are also black. In summer, the bill is gray-blue; in winter almost black. The legs are pale brown. A short tail is almost always cheekily cocked. The young look much like the adults. The tree sparrow’s call is a modest “chip,” whereas the song is a more musical arrangement of “chips” and “chirps.”

* Where to find them: A common Japanese bird, the tree sparrow is found all over the islands, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, tending toward more rural areas, large gardens, open farmland, hedgerows and lone trees and small woods. It likes nest boxes and will also live on coastal cliffs. Tree sparrows sometimes build a domed nest inside the old nest of a larger bird, such as a magpie. Its slightly larger and bolder cousin, the house sparrow, is more common in urban areas. Tree sparrows are also found across the rest of Asia, and Europe.
* Food: Tree sparrows pick seeds both direct from trees and from the ground, and love a nice bit of caterpillar.
* Special features: A generalist to rival the crow, the tree sparrow’s greatest feature is its very ordinariness. In most cultures where they live, the sparrow has been incorporated into folklore, and Japan is no exception. The most famous Japanese fairytale involving sparrows is “Shita-kiri Suzume (The Tongue-cut Sparrow),” in which a kind old man helps an injured sparrow but his greedy jealous wife goes and ruins things. In Britain, the bird, once common, has been declining rapidly for unknown reasons. It lays four to six small brown eggs. Usually one egg is lighter with a different pattern to the others — probably the chick from this egg, if it hatches, is doomed, unless a kindly old man happens to be around to nurse it.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET

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