Show Me Some Birds in the Show Me State — Plus a History of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow

“Show me some birds in the Show Me State“.  That was my request to Pat Lueders as I was heading to Missouri.  I am not going to go into the full details yet as there will be a full on Blog Post about it later, but this was the first stop on an 8 day swing through the Midwest working on what I have tentatively been calling my “50/50/50 Project”.  As I said there will be much more on this later, but in essence it is a journey/adventure where my objective is to see 50 species on one single day in each of the 50 states in the company of local folks and also to visit new interesting places.  My passion for birding has greatly enriched my life with exciting birds, people and places.  50/50/50 is furthering that enrichment adding great birds, people and places in every state.

I will add much more about Pat Lueders in my next post which will be about birding with her in Illinois the next day as well.  She was terrific – definitely as a birding guide – finding and identifying – but moreso as great company with a wealth of knowledge about her area.  She is also a professional guide with Naturalist Journeys and that too will be covered in more depth in my next post.  I had a great time and learned a ton.  I am going to try to avoid these 50/50/50 posts becoming a recitation of “then we did/saw this and then we did/saw that” – so not as chronological or linear as some of my other posts have been.  We will see how it goes.

I arrived in St. Louis on the evening of October 2nd. It was kind of a “tweener” time – between the peak migration of passerines and the arrival of waterfowl – but Pat was confident we would be able to find fifty species with some residents and later migrating passerines.  Although the only absolute was finding those fifty species, a close second was to finally see a Eurasian Tree Sparrow – found in only a limited geographical area in and around St. Louis.  There was also the hope of adding Philadelphia Vireo to my ABA Life List and a few possible new ABA photos – mostly warblers that could still be around but far less likely than even a week or two earlier.

St. Louis reminded me a lot of Washington, D.C. in the 1960’s.  I grew up in Maryland outside of D.C. but spent a lot of time there.  Lots of row houses with big deciduous trees and many parks.  The 90+ degrees and the 90%+ humidity also reminded me of D.C. weather – not my best memory.  Much of our birding was at Tower Grove Park near the Center of the City but Pat also showed me Forest Park – over 1370 acres with every use you could imagine.  One of the largest urban parks in the U.S. (bigger than Central Park) it is an incredible resource for the City.

One View at Forest Park

Pavilion at Forest Park

At Tower Grove Park we had 39 species including that hoped for Lifer Philadelphia Vireo – a barely recognizable photo only so not included (there will be one of another “Philly Vireo” in a later blog post).  I had finally gotten a photo of a Red Headed Headed Woodpecker earlier this year in North Carolina and I told Pat I hoped for a better one.  We only found one – much better than the North Carolina photo.  It has an amazingly big bill and there is no doubt about how it got its name.

Red Headed Woodpecker

Red Headed WP1

The species list for Tower Grove Park includes an incredible 35 warbler species.  Two weeks ago we might have had as many as 15.  Only a half dozen this day including a very lovely Black Throated Green Warbler.  I hope to get back for Spring migration some day.

Black Throated Green Warbler

Black Throated Green Warbler2

The topography in Missouri is very different from my home area of Puget Sound.  Of course, no saltwater – and no tides.  But two BIG rivers – the Missouri and the Mississippi and their confluence is at Confluence Park near the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – another area we birded.  I have to admit that I prefer the more dramatic topography of my Seattle, but the history of these rivers and the role they play in the Central U.S. is incredible.  Pat was an encyclopedia of knowledge with many references to the Lewis and Clark Expedition which followed the Missouri River into the Northwest more than 200 years ago.  Our Northwest is so young compared to the rest of the country.  The feeling of a presence of “history” was a big part of my visit.

At Riverlands we had 26 species, but they included our only shorebirds of the trip –  single Least, Baird’s and Spotted Sandpipers and a Killdeer.  Again very different from my recent birding in Washington – but important where we were trying to reach 50 species – especially when the day had no sparrows, no crows and no falcons.  It was at our last stop that we finally got my most important species, an ETS – the Eurasian Tree Sparrow.  We played hide and seek with them at feeders at the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area – along the Missouri River.  Later I finally got great looks and photos at Pat’s home.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

ETS1

We ended the day with 66 species including the two Lifers and two Life photos (now at 692).  We had talked about possibly visiting the famous St. Louis Gateway Arch.  Pat was game but in part because of sleep loss from travels the previous day and the oppressive heat, I lost energy.  We had many views of the Gateway Arch during the day – made easier by the flatness of the landscape.  It definitely stands out.  Something else that stood out were the many beautiful homes in some of the residential areas – very different architecture and many larger lots than in Seattle.  I asked Pat for a round figure of what a particularly nice (and large) home would sell for.  I won’t reveal the price but, if you could even find a similar home in Seattle, I am sure it would cost 3 or 4 times as much.

The Gateway Arch

Gateway Arch

A Brief History of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Pat gave me a copy of the list of “Migratory and Permanent Resident Birds” published by the St. Louis Bird Club – 1947 Revision.  Of particular interest was a lengthy article about what was then called the European Tree Sparrow and its comparison to what was then called the English Sparrow – and was referred to as a “chippy”.  The former, now the Eurasian Tree Sparrow was originally brought to St. Louis, released there, thrived there but unlike the English Sparrow – now the House Sparrow – it never moved away and spread.  Here is some of the history:

20 European Tree Sparrows were released in Lafayette Park along with some Linnets, European Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Bullfinches in 1870 by a bird dealer, a Mr. Kleinschmidt and Carl Daenzer, a prominent citizen.  The other species quickly disappeared, but bolstered by ample grain food supplies provided by the numerous local breweries, the Tree Sparrows thrived primarily in the suburban residential and parkland areas.

The larger and more aggressive House Sparrows had been released in Brooklyn in 1851 but did not appear in the St. Louis area until 1877.  The House Sparrows began to take over and the population of Tree Sparrows may have disappeared but for the community efforts in providing bird houses with entrance holes sufficiently small to prevent use by the former – wren boxes with holes of 1 1/8″.   The Tree Sparrows held on in an area of about a 50 mile radius of St. Louis.  The House Sparrows thrived in urban, suburban and rural areas but the Tree Sparrows remained in the rural and suburban areas only.  Post breeding they would gather in flocks in these areas – often in the company of the more robust House Sparrows, but when together, the Tree Sparrows yield to their larger cousins.

Both species are Old World Weaver Finches – not true sparrows.  The House Sparrow is dimorphic with males and females having different plumage, while both sexes of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow have the same plumage.  Identification was summarized by the Bird Club as follows.

  • European Tree Sparrow – Crown chocolate brown; Black spot in white cheek; Two wing-bars; Narrow white collar; Black patch on throat; Female looks like male.
  • English Sparrow – Crown slate colored, brown edge; Solid white cheek; One wing-bar; no collar; Black throat and breast; Female not like male.

Comparison Photo

Comparison

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