House Sparrows expanding range in PNG

2006 August 16
by David J. Ringer

UKARUMPA, PNG — I see and hear House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) every time I travel through Port Moresby. I’ve seen them around the airport, and in suburban yards of districts like Boroko. Two weeks ago (August 2), I observed adults feeding youngsters in a nest that they’d constructed in the fruit cluster of a small palm.

I thought that Moresby was the only place the species has established itself, but I was wrong.

Ere’ere is a village is on the coast, slightly north of Yule Island and perhaps 60 or 70 miles (as the crow flies) northwest of Moresby. It is home to about 700 people — and to House Sparrows.

Every day last week, I listened to their noisy chirping in the morning hours. The birds were very difficult to see, apparently spending their time high in the crowns of coconut palms. I did get a look at one female as she preened at the base of a frond.

How did House Sparrows get to Ere’ere? Has the Moresby population begun spreading along the coast? Several large, densely populated villages are strung along the coast between the city and Ere’ere, so the scenario is not entirely implausible. Or, could a person have brought them to the village?

If they’ve expanded northwest along the coast, might they be spreading southeast as well?

According to one author, House Sparrows have established themselves in PNG since only 1992. They are not mentioned anywhere in Beehler et al.’s field guide, which was published in 1986.

I found a very interesting account of the first sighting of House Sparrows in PNG — a group of four birds in 1976.

At that time, the observers expressed great concern at the birds’ presence and were relieved that all four disappeared. Apparently, the species was not seen again until about 1986, but three years later, House Sparrows were also observed on Yule Island, which is just south of Ere’ere as I mentioned above.

I am curious about the Yule Island observation and will try to get a copy of the old Papua New Guinea Bird Society journal article that documented it. I do not know whether House Sparrows could or would have crossed the sea from the island to the coast, or vice versa.

Do House Sparrows pose a threat to PNG natives (birds or otherwise)? What factors might influence or limit their expansion? Like Moresby, Ere’ere is located in very dry savanna country. Is that important for the sparrows? Could they survive in villages near wetter, forested regions?

Where else might they already be established along the southern coast? Should we be concerned?

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  3. Backyard birds in PNG
  4. PNG bird songs, part one
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