Saturday, 24 November 2007

An Eurasian in Borneo

Believe it or not, the most abundant and visible birds today in our towns, villages and farms, in fact anywhere people live, are not native to Borneo. The Eurasian Tree Sparrow as it is recognised by birders the world over or Ciak Rumah or Pipit Rumah in Malay, is in fact a relatively new arrival in Borneo. I remembered that it was not included in the first edition of Bertram E. Smythies' Birds of Borneo book which I had often borrowed from my uncle as a boy, in fact as any respectable catapult-carrying kampung boy I would have known if there were sparrows living in people's houses then! I had listened enthralled to my dad telling us how he used to trapped "house sparrows" in pre-World War II Singapore!

I believe, it was in the early 1970s that I first set eyes on this species on Labuan Island, and it was much later that I saw a small flock near the port in Kota Kinabalu, from that time its spread was just phenomenal - until today there's hardly any corner of settled Borneo that it isn't found.

Passer montanus was originally native to temperate Europe and Asia but had spread to almost
all over the world including Australia and the US of A where it was said to have been introduced. In their original range Eurasian Tree Sparrows prefer rural areas and nest in trees and hedges while cities and towns are occupied by their relatives the House Sparrows. However in S E Asia where there are no native "house sparrows" they have taken on that role.

Ironically, while the immigrants to this region have continued to thrive and flourish, even to the extend of becoming pests in ricefields and in poultry and ducks farms (where they steal feeds meant for domestic fowls) their population in Europe had declined drastically and in the UK it had been classified as a Red List species, i.e. a species that's "globally threatened, whose population or range has declined rapidly in recent years, or that have declined histrorically and not shown a substantial recent recovery"!

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