Sunday, November 4, 2012

Better to be an ugly duckling... even if you are a bird!

Male Spanish sparrow
The Spanish sparrow is the most common breeding bird in the Maltese islands.

It often passes unnoticed and is often ignored probably because it is not colourful and does not have a beautiful song.

Its success is a result of its feeding and breeding habits but, its general lack of attractive features has helped it by no small means.

If it had a beautiful song like that of the finches it would have been trapped and placed in a small cage in such large numbers that it would probably had become very rare or extinct a very long time ago. 

Finches have been trapped in the Maltese islands for decades. When trapping them was still allowed they did not breed except in exceptional years when a pair or two managed to build a nest undisturbed.

Another breeding bird, the blue rock thrush, which is Malta’s National bird, has a loud melodious song. The males are beautiful blue grey. 

These two features made this bird very popular with bird enthusiasts. Many used to be on the lookout for nests and took away all the young birds from any accessible ones. This bird managed to continue breeding in small numbers in the Maltese islands because it often builds its nest on inaccessible cliff faces. 

Accessible nests are sometimes still robbed of their young and if this ugly past-time had to stop completely this beautiful bird would become more common and would even start breeding closer to human habitation.

The Spanish sparrow has neither the colourful plumage nor the ability to sing beautifully like some other more popular birds but it is still a striking and interesting bird. 

Although it prefers to perch on trees and poles it can often be seen feeding on the ground and sometimes, especially where they are given food, they can become very tame. 

The best way to observe sparrows is to put up a bird table outside a window and within days you will start getting sparrows feeding on it giving you the opportunity to observe sparrows as well as other birds at close quarters. 

(This article was published in The Times on 22.08.2012)

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