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    Sind Sparrow Passer pyrrhonotus  
  Suresh Sharma May 2005
Sind Sparrow Passer pyrrhonotus copyright Suresh C Sharma; 21st June 2006; Sonipat
Sind Sparrow Passer pyrrhonotus
Sind Sparrow Passer pyrrhonotus



Male: Superficially the Sind Sparrow may look like a House Sparrow, though the former is conspicuously slimmer and noticeably smaller than the HS. Head looks remarkably smaller. The male with his smaller and thin square bib, confined to chin and throat does not grade into the scale like pattern on its lower margin; crown is grey and below it there is a broader much brighter chestnut brown stripe on the sides of the head and nape. Further, dull whitish grey cheeks (not white) are concolorous with the lower breast. A small blackish line in the loral area. A indistinct creamy wingbar and the tertials are handsomely marked with black centres and pinky buff margins.

Female: the hen is small version of the female House Sparrow, though when seen alongside the latter, her ear coverts are greyer, less white in tone. The creamy white supercilium above the eye always looks quite broad and conspicuous.

Bill is horny brown, which in summer in the case of male becomes black, is finer and if familiar with looks different from the HIS. Juvenile birds are like female and undergo a complete post juvenile moult in their first winter.
The SS is non-commensal sparrow, adapted essentially to the Acacia nilotica groves alongside canals and waterlogged areas with tall grasses in the vicinity. (In a canalside village Chitana in Sonipat district of Haryana, 7 nests were observed on 3 Acacia nilotica trees when cut paddy straws were left nearby, but when they were burnt, the birds did not breed there). Though the bird is subject to seasonal movements., from March onwards, the birds get split into smaller parties of 2 to 6 birds and pairs begin nesting, sometimes 3 nests in one tree have been observed, though single nests are also made. After post breeding, i.e., from October onwards, the birds start forming groups. Towards the evening, around the sun set, usually 6-14 birds can be seen settling for roosting sites. From December to February, flocks of birds upto 50 individuals can be seen clinging at the flowery heads of S. munja feeding on its seeds. During summer seasons end March to September end, the birds may move away from the canal upto 500 meters away in search of suitable breeding trees but always near some water body.

Voice: Once familiar, its ‘chirrup; is quite distinct from HS, decidedly higher pitched., and more staccato ‘chu-wit chu-wit’. When the hen is nearby during nesting season beginning, the male sings ‘chu chu wit’ repeatedly for several minutes. Short warbling twitters and occasionally short whitles have also been heard. During breeding season, the male is often seen perched on an upper branch over the nest calling soft ‘chirrup’ . Field guides describe its call as reminiscent of that of a white wagtail, but the author has not experienced such a call.

During breeding, the bird has never been seen aggressive, as is the common case with the House Sparrows. Male, as soon as a female comes nearby, starts singing excitedly. Male has also been seen feeding the female, a few times even on ground, as a pre-mating behaviour.

Interaction with Spot-bellied Munias: Every year, the SS has been seen for nesting sharing a tree with Spot-bellied Munias. On three occasions, both species nests’ were almost touching each other.

Interaction with Baya Weaver Birds – abandoned nests of the weaver have been seen being used as dormitory as well as for nesting purpose. During the four years study, only twice I have seen this kind of nesting. But always on Acacia nilotica trees.

Nesting Tree: the height has always been 3 to 4 meters from the ground. Tree has been Acacia nilotica. Even roadside babul trees near the waterlogged agriculture fields and/or village ponds and / or in the vicinity of the canals are frequently used for nesting.

During wintering months, December to February, the SS frequently mix with feeding parties of Spanish Sparrows, Indian House Sparrows, Red Avadavats, Indian Silverbills and weavers.

Ever since the discovery of the Sind Sparrow in Sonipat in Haryana on 3rd Jan 2001 and its successful breeding there, the bird has been seen in several parts of Haryana and north Delhi, covering Sonipat, Panipat, Jind, Rohtak, Jhajjar, Rewari, Gurgaon, Fatehabad, Hisar and Sirsa in Haryana and the suitable habitat in north Delhi. In 2004, a pair was seen on an Acacia nilotica tree standing on the bank of Eastern Yamuna Canal in Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh (this is the first sighting in the state) by the author, near Baraut town. Baghpat and Sonipat districts are divided by the river Yamuna.

T.J. Roberts in ‘Birds of Pakistan’ Vol 2 (1992) considered it ‘resident sedentary sparrow, endemic to the Indus flood plain and its major tributaries and it… largely confined to Pakistan territory. The bird was considered an uncommon species at the beginning of 20th century even in Sind.

In India the bird due to spread of extensive canal irrigation system in Punjab had spread upto Harike in Punjab and nearby areas, but always along the canal with suitable habitat.

The bird has been seen practically all over Haryana wherever suitable habitat exists, always on the canals or nearby jheels or village ponds. It precludes that the bird must have spread in Haryana from the irrigation canal system of Punjab entering parts of Haryana.

Accordinding to Ticehurt (Ibis 1922), the sparrow species was rather uncommon at the beginning of the 20th century, the bird became wide-spread and common due to the spread of irrigation schemes and resultant water-logging.
Personal discussions with Manoj Kulshrestha reveal that the bird has now been sighted in Rajasthan also.
During Sociable Lapwing Survey in Haryana and Punjab in January and February 2005, the Sind Sparrow was sighted frequently on the Acacia nilotica trees along the Gaggar river and canals in both states. The bird was seen in Ambala and Yamunanagar districts also.

The present status of the bird is :
Haryana, Punjab, Delhi (from Narela to Samaipur Badli along Western Yamuna Canal), Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh (on 28 Oct 04). For Gujarat, the only source is NN Bapat’s sighting of the bird at the Khari Nadi, west of Bhuj (Kuctch) in Gujarat.

Rajasthan – Since the river Ghaggar flowing through parts of Punjab and Haryana enters into Rajasthan and a few canal branches where bird has been seen in Haryana also enter bordering areas of Rajasthan and the habitat there is quite suitable for this bird, the bird is most likely to be seen there too. Well, the bird has been sighted in parts of Rajasthan in 2004 (personal discussions with Manoj Kulshresht and Dr Asad Rahmani).

I am grateful to many birders for their assistance in writing this paper. Some of them are Asad Rahmani, Bill Harvey, Bikram Grewal, Manoj Kulshreshtha, Harkirat Singh Sangha and Pratap Singh Sangwan and Kiran Srivastava

Clement, P., A. Harris and J. Davis : Finches and Sparrows. Christopher Helm.
Harvey, B.and Suresh C. Sharma (2002): The Initial Colonisation of the Yamuna Fllod Plains by the Sind Sparrow, JBNHS 99:35-43
Roberts, T.J. : Birds of Pakistan, Oxford University Press, Karachi
Summers-Smith, J.D. (1988): The Sparrows. T & AD Poser, Calton

See also the Sparrows article for more information regarding Sind Sparrow.

Sind Sparrow (Male) Passer pyrrhonotus; copyright Mike Prince;
February 2003; Harike, Punjab
Sind Sparrow (Male) Passer pyrrhonotus; copyright Mike Prince;
February 2003; Harike, Punjab

See the House Sparrow article for some more information regarding Sind Sparrow.

June 15, 2001. - Bill Harvey
Only since January 2001 have Sind Sparrows been recorded in Haryana State, India. Suresh Sharma has carefully plotted their appearance in a number of sites in babuls along the canal systems (it is very much a waterside bird) just north of Delhi around Sonepat. In March he found a pair at Bhindawas but inspite of searches by both of us they were not relocated. On 13 May I joined Suresh in Sonepat and found a pair with a nest at one of his sites. Unfortunately that nest was destroyed and since then there have been very few sightings in Suresh's winter sites. Today I found a thriving breeding colony at Bhindawas reserve, 80 kms south west of Delhi and some distance from the original sites. This marks the first substantive (ie breeding resident) establishment of this endaangered species in the Yamuna floodplain. It was previously only recorded from the lower Indus in Pakistan and associated wetlands (eg Harike). I picked up a singing male in the babuls along the bund quite near the eastern end on the evening of 14 June 2001. I had good views but saw only one bird. Resolving to get back at 0530 am (I was staying in the rest house) I did so. On the way I heard at least 2 males in full song in the babuls on the island where herons etc were starting nesting. I continued to yesterday's site and found no trace of my male. So I returned and found a resonably easy wading spot which took me into scattered babuls on little ridges some distance from the hereonry itself. In no time at all I had sighted 10 males, 6 females and 8 active nests. Each nest was in a separate babul (the largest available; 15-20 feet) and was "affixed" to the underside of the old nest of another bird (something not I think recorded before). 6 were under probable Little Egret nests and the now scrappy twig cover formed a roof. The nests were scruffier than the Sonepat one and at least one was still being actively built by the pair. The other two were on the underside of Pied Starling nests, one of which I think was still occupied!Of these 10 males 2 were sitting very close to the nest ans singing strongly ( I suspect the females were incubating inside), 6 were with their females singing and fussing round the nests (one pairactively lining it). Two were singing high in babuls but I could not locate either nests or females. The pairs were no more than 10 metres from each other and several were audible at once. I saw no interactions between them. Several individuals flew off the island to the bund and this may be the origin of Suresh's March and my 14 June birds. I only covered about 25% of the island for fear of disturbing the incipient heronry. I would estimate that if Sind Sparrows are in all the larger babuls (perhaps, like Spanish Sparrows, in the base of the active waterbird nests) then the colony is at least twice if not thrice the number I counted (ie around 20-30 breeding pairs). Is this all a result of this year's invasion? Perhaps, but this colony is off the beaten track (except by Nilgai and buffaloes) and only those who know the distinctive chirruping interspersed with the White Wagtail note are likely to pick them up. They also seem only to be fairly noisy from 0530-0730 and again from 1730- dusk. We have a wonderful opportunity to track what is clearly a spread into India. More anon.

Sind Sparrows in Haryana, May 13, 2001. - Bill Harvey
Clive Harris and I met up with Suresh C. Sharma, Anil Bhole and Jagbir this morning for Suresh to take us round his Sonepat hot spots. In spite of the heat later on it was a most enjoyable and productive visit and I will post a summary later on.

For all of us the highlight was locating Suresh's Sind Sparrows along the canal near Mohammedabad and finding the first ever nest in Haryana. Given that the species was first seen by Suresh in January this year, the finding of a nest is both remarkable and confirms that this bird has indeed crossed the great divide from the Indus and is colonising India. I have photographs of both sexes and the nest.

We saw 3 males and 2 females, one pair of which were just completing the nest and drove the other 3 birds off when they entered the tree. The nest was a large fairly neat oval shape made of coarse yellowish grass and being lined with fine grass and feathers by the female (we watched them "stealing" feathers from an unoccupied open nest of unknown species nearby) The sparrow's nest was 8 feet up quite well hidden near the foilage covered trunk of a babul (Acacia arabica). There were many of these trees lined at close intervals on either side of the canal.


The species was not in our view markedly smaller than a House Sparrow (seen just before and after) but it was certainly slimmer, smaller headed and perhaps longer tailed. The bill is neater and smaller than on a House Sparrow with a fine rather pointed tip.

The male had a distinctive quite high-pitched and rather "rocking" song "chitta, chitta, chitta", which was quite distinct from the chirruping song of House Sparrow. both sexes had a soft "cheep, cheep" call which I doubt one would pick up as different from House Sparrow, but interspersed with it was a quite distinct repeated "tswep, tswep" reminiscent of a White Wagtail.

The males had a dove-grey forehead, crown and nape, paler on the colllar and cheeks and contrasting with a fairly broad sweeping stripe from eye tohalf way round the cheek which was a distinct bright russet chestnut, paler and brighter than the similar mark on a House Sparrow. The mantle was rich brown with both darker and paler markings merging into a distinctly brown back and rump which in turn merged into narrow grey upper tail coverts (male House Sparrow has whole uppertail coverts, rump and back distinctly grey). The lesser coverts (shoulder) were distinctly chestnut with a very obvious white border to the median coverts adding to the bird's bright appearance. The cheeks were uniform pale grey continuing to a grey throat, breast and belly (most guides show a contrast between cheeks and breast but this was definitely not so; perhaps breeding plumage). The distinctive bib is quite long and narrow with straight sides (i.e. rather rectangular) quite unlike the round bib (whether small or large and blotched) of male House Sparrows of any age. The bill was blackish indicating breeding.

The female, although superficially like a female House Sparrow, was more distinctive than the guides suggest. The broad sweeping pale whitish supercilium runs back from the eye and contrasts much more with the plain pale brown crown a very distinctly greyish and concolorous cheeks. These (unlike the males) contrast quite markedly with the more House Sparrow-like buffish-white throat, breast and belly. The other striking feature was the distinct pale chestnut lesser wing coverts (shoulder) very similar to those of two Chestnut-shouldered Petronias we saw later. The bill was greyish horn on the upper mandible, yellow on the lower.

When not nest building, singing and chasing interlopers the two birds fed picking off the babul leaves and only once did the male descend to the ground. They were remarkably confiding near the nest but thus easily by passed.

We would urge all Delhi-based birders to keep a careful look-out for this latest addition to our avifauna especially

  See The Sparrow I & II articles for more information regarding Sparrows  

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