February 25, 2006

Exit here for exotic sparrow

59 Eurasian tree sparrow
60 white-crowned sparrow

Finding bird no. 59 of 2006 was like eating a whole bag of potato chips in one sitting—fun, but not a particularly proud moment. I knew three things going in: (1) I'd be in St. Louis for the day, (2) a population of non-native Eurasian tree sparrows lives in and near St. Louis and practically nowhere else in North America, and (3) almost anything can be found with a Google search.

Once in St. Louis I exited the interstate, drove six precisely delineated blocks to an intersection, and waited at a Eurasian tree sparrow hotspot I'd found on the Web. One of the corner houses was supposed to be the epicenter, and I could see birdhouses and feeders behind a backyard fence. Five minutes after arriving I saw Eurasians moving through and briefly alighting on a sweetgum tree in the backyard. But the light was bad and and I wanted to make sure. After waiting 20 minutes I drove around the corner, reparked (I never left my car during the entire affair), and saw my Eurasian tree sparrow on an ornamental sidewalk tree. Bingo.

A little more background on the Googled sparrows: Eurasian tree sparrows were introduced to North America in 1870 in St. Louis. We now know this is a bad idea all around, but it worked, and the sparrows spread through the area. Meanwhile, another bad idea led to English (now called house) sparrow releases in New York and countless other American cities. Eventually arriving in St. Louis, the bigger and more aggressive English/house sparrows outcompeted and scattered the Eurasians to the point where they can now be located by Internet directions.

The white pelican wins today's Birds of America honors, however. During a 30-minute St. Louis zoo jaunt, I saw pelicans, wood ducks, and hooded mergansers in a small lake, showing no signs of leaving anytime soon.


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