Written by Joshua Carlsson. Image supplied by Wesley Gush.
World Sparrow Day celebrates some of the smaller birds that we find on Amakhala Game Reserve. Sparrows fall under the family passeridae and are found throughout the world in many different breeds, each unique in their own way. In South Africa, the sparrow is commonly known as a “mossie”, with the most common being the Cape Sparrow (Passer melanurus). On Amakhala we have four different sparrow species: Cape Sparrow, House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Southern Grey-headed Sparrow (Passer diffuses) and Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow (Gymnoris superciliaris).
Most sparrow species are very social and stay in colonies of between 50 and 100 birds. Their primary source of food is plant seeds with grass seeds being preferred. However, sparrows also feed on the buds of plants and even on insects. The male’s plumage differs slightly from the females, where the male’s colours are brighter, and the females are duller and mostly grey. Sparrows fall into the category of being monogamous, meaning that one male will only breed with one female.
Nests are made in various sites, with acacia trees being preferred. Often more than one breeding pair will use a tree to make a nest. However, not all breeding pairs make nests within the colony. During the day the male and female both sit on the nest, switching every 15-20 minutes while at night the female sits on the eggs while the male perches outside the nest as a lookout. The diet of newly hatched sparrows consists mainly of caterpillars which are fed to them by both parents.
Sparrows are listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List and for the majority of the time they live peacefully side by side with humans. The only trouble is at agricultural sites where the farmer is farming with vineyards or grain. Here the sparrows will eat the seeds of the grain and if there are no seeds around in the vineyard then they will start eating the grapes! Game reserves like Amakhala offer them a safe space where they can forage carefree.