Eurasian Tree Sparrows! In my freakin’ yard!! News at 11:00! More later!!
EDIT: The story…I WAS going to go work in the office today, but woke up in the middle of the night with a massive headache. I thought I’d take it easy and work at home today. About 10:45 this morning, I looked out the sunroom window. I saw a bird in the back of the yard that looked…odd. I grabbed the binoculars, and as I started to focus on it, the bird flew…right towards me, landing in the crabapple standing 10 feet from the window. Immediately you could see it was something different…it was NOT a House Sparrow! It was a Eurasian Tree Sparrow!
I gawked for a few seconds, and then grabbed my camera that fortunately was only a few feet away. As I started snapping photos, ANOTHER Eurasian Tree Sparrow popped up in the same tree! One seemed to be following the other. At first, I thought they were both male birds, but only because I assumed they had a sexual dimorphism similar to House Sparrows. Only later did I find that no, both males and females are similar in appearance. Given the way the two birds moved together, with one always following the other, my best guess is that they were a male and female.
They stayed in the tree for perhaps 1 1/2 minutes, during which I took as many photos as I could. During the rest of the day, there were only two other, brief sightings in my yard (one bird each time).
Why is this a big deal? They DO look somewhat similar to our everyday House Sparrow. However, Eurasian Tree Sparrows have a unique history. A small number were released near St. Louis, Missouri in 1870 by a landowner who wanted to replicate the bird life of his native Europe. IN the 148 years since then, Eurasian Tree Sparrows haven’t expanded their range much beyond their original release location. They have still almost exclusively been found in far western Illinois, far eastern Missouri, and far southeastern Iowa. In recent years, stray sightings have occurred outside this range, including areas as close as Minnesota.
But until the last 2 weeks, no live Eurasian Tree Sparrow had ever been seen in South Dakota. A couple of weeks ago, the Small family in Vermillion saw an individual bird…the first live Eurasian Tree Sparrows ever seen in the state (a deceased bird was once found)!! The two birds in my yard today thus represent only the 2nd time the species has been seen in the state.
Pretty cool!! Here’s hoping the two are a mating pair, and that they stick around my yard for the summer.