Where to Find a Eurasian Tree Sparrow
|Eurasian Tree Sparrow ( Passer montanus ) in Choke Cherry ( Prunus virginiana ) from cover illustration by Chuck Witcher to Birds of the St. Louis Area - Where and When to Find Them, by the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (revised edition, 1998)|
Like the common House Sparrow ("English Sparrow"), the Eurasian Tree Sparrow is not native to the United States. Both species originated in Europe or Asia and are in the family of birds known as weavers, which is unrelated to our native sparrows.
In the 19th century, south St. Louis was the home of many European immigrants who wanted to see familiar birds from their homeland. So, on April 25 of 1870, twelve Eurasian Tree Sparrows were released in Lafayette Park in south St. Louis (Widmann, 1909; Lang, 1992). Numbers of other European birds were also released (European Goldfinches, Eurasian Bullfinches, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, and Linnets), but only the Eurasian Tree Sparrow successfully established a breeding population.
In 1878 came the invasion of the more aggressive House Sparrow, which began to push the Eurasian Tree Sparrow from its established nesting areas. Expansion of the city also caused the Eurasian Tree Sparrow to spread, for it prefers suburban areas and open country. Today, there are still individuals in the city and a fair number in the suburbs. Most of the range expansion, however, has been to the north, along the Illinois River to at least Mason County, Illinois, and along the Mississippi River to southern Iowa. Some of the largest numbers are found in a remote location ~90 north northwest of St. Louis along the east side of the Illinois River north of the village of Meredosia (Cass Co.). I have not visited the area, but Anthony Lang, who studied the species for his Ph.D. dissertation, points out that there are hundreds of pairs nesting in tall silver maples along the Illinois River. More than a thousand birds have been reported on several occasions on the Meredosia Island Christmas Bird Count.
Overall, the ETS is an uncommon species in the St. Louis area. This means that local birders might spend a whole day birding and not see one unless they make a special effort to visit a place where they are known to regularly occur. In my experience, the species is most difficult to locate in the heat of the summer, when visiting birders who are passing through town on their way to elsewhere want me to show them one. In summer, I would always recommend the Dogtown area discussed below as the first place to look.
In the city and suburbs, the ETS often visits feeders, and sometimes a few are seen in flocks of House Sparrows. However in winter, Eurasian Tree Sparrows often group with others of their kind. Flocks of 50 or more birds can be encountered in rural areas, often in trees near water or in hedgerows or brush. On Christmas Bird Counts, it is not uncommon to find the Eurasian Tree Sparrow in the same habitat as the American Tree Sparrow.
The ETS is easy to identify, but one useful point is omitted by most bird guides – the narrow white nape collar, partial or complete, which serves as a quick distinction from the House Sparrow at some angles. The call is reminiscent of the "cheap, cheap" of a House Sparrow, but is higher pitched and, to this observer, less obnoxious. The call note of the ETS, often given in flight, is a hoarse "tick, tick;" the call sometimes accelerates into a rapid chatter, unlike any sound made by a House Sparrow.
If you are going to explore any of the sites below, I recommend obtaining a good (and recent) map of the St. Louis metropolitan area, particularly one that extends northwest into St. Charles Co. and east into Madison Co., Illinois. The maps I've provided here will help you get located, but they're not good enough to keep you from getting lost.
In the City
Dogtown. One of the most consistent places to find the ETS in the St. Louis urban area is the residential area southwest of Forest Park known locally as Dogtown (see also Clayton/Tamm, Franz Park, and Hi-Pointe neighborhoods). This area, which is about 5 miles west of the point that the original birds were released in 1870, is particularly convenient for persons passing through the city east-west on I-64/US-40. (If instead you are on I-44, exit at Kingshighway or Hampton, head north about a mile and take the westbound exit onto I-64/US-40.)
From I-64/US-40 take the McCausland Ave. south exit. Proceed south about two blocks (0.1 mile). Turn left (east) onto Nashville and go two blocks. Turn left (north) onto Central, go one block, and turn left (west) onto West Park. Go one block to Forest and park near the intersection. The house on the southwest corner of West Park and Forest (6900 West Park, red dot on map ) has numerous bird houses in the back yard that you can see from the sidewalk on Forest. ETS nest here. (The circuitous route is required because several of the streets are one lane.) [Google Maps]
The Hill. Now you know what the habitat looks like. If you have no luck here, spiral outward favoring directions south and west. Look at any feeders and all the little brown birds. ETS have been seen as far west as Belleville (even north of the freeway). Although the details are not well known among local birders, rumor has it that they are also regular in The Hill neighborhood to the southeast; this area in conveniently accessed from I-44 (Hampton and Kingshighway exits). Curiously, they are seldom encountered in nearby Forest Park or Tower Grove Park. [Google Maps]
After finding the ETS, stop and have a bite to eat. The Hill and Dogtown neighborhoods have the highest density of good restaurants in the St. Louis area.
North Riverfront Park. The ETS is found in the river floodplains more commonly than in the adjacent upland areas, although the Dogtown area is clearly an exception. An area along the Mississippi River where they are regularly found is North Riverfront Park, which is the area along the west side of the Mississippi river south of the I-270 bridge in north St. Louis. Exit I-270 at Riverview Drive and head south; there are several park entrances on the left once you pass the chain link fence that surrounds the water plant. The first one is marked "St. Louis Riverfront Trail" (this one also provides a decent view of the river where one might see ducks, eagles, and gulls in winter). The birds may be found in any tree. They have even been observed nesting in the pipe gates. On the way back north on Riverview Drive, check the Trailnet parking lot at the base of the old Chain or Rocks bridge. On some old maps, North Riverfront Park is designated Chain of Rocks Park. See also the "st. louis riverfront trail" and "old chain of rocks bridge" sections of Trailnet. [Google Maps]
The Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area (below) can be reached in 20 minutes by heading west on I-270, then north on MO-367.
November, 2009: The last couple of times I was at North Riverfront Park, both in winter, I failed to find any ETS. However, a nearby reliable place is the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, about 3 miles to the north. Check the bird feeders at the headquarters. (The feeders may not be stocked in summer.
St. Louis County, Missouri
Locally, the ETS can be found in many of the suburban areas of St. Louis Co., although many reliable locations are in private yards with feeders. They occur regularly at the home of a knowledgeable local birder, Mr. Bill Rowe of Webster Groves, who is willing to have visiting birders watch his feeders. Call him at (314) 962-0544 for directions. His home is conveniently located within 5 minutes of I-44. Below are several publicly accessible sites.
Wehner Park. A local birder told me about this spot in Shrewsbury recently. I had never been to Wehner Park, but I was able to find 3 Eurasian Tree Sparrows within 4 minutes of parking my car on my first visit in late August of 1998. This small park is easily accessible from I-44. If westbound, exit at Shrewsbury (exit 283) and make the clockwise 3/4 circle that takes you over the freeway heading south on Shrewsbury. After about 3 blocks, turn right onto Murdoch (at the light) and after about 4 short blocks, turn left onto Wilshusen Ave. If eastbound, exit at the Murdoch Ave. - Laclede Station Road exit (exit 282). You will encounter a confusing maze of intersections, but your goal is to proceed as nearly straight ahead as you can. Stay to the right side of the exit lane. When the lane becomes two lanes, continue straight (which is actually a slight angle to the right), crossing Laclede Station Road and Murdoch Avenue. If you haven't turned, you should be heading south on Wilshusen Ave. Proceed a few short blocks south on Wilshusen, which dead-ends in the park. If you happen to end up going south on Laclede Station Road, just continue and turn left on Weil or Kenridge. Proceed east on either street for a block and turn right on Wilshusen. [Google Maps]
Grant's Trail. Grant's trail was purchased by Trailnet, Inc. under the Rails to Trails Act . Presently, it is a 6-mile trail largely running along Gravois Creek in south St. Louis Co. Although I have net yet visited the site, the April/May 1998 issue of Trail Notes, Trailnet's newsletter, says "The ETS has been found consistently along the section of the Trail between the Orlando Gardens parking lot and Reavis Barracks Road [about 1 mile long]. Birds were seen this winter and spring on the Trail itself and in adjacent backyards" This location is particularly convenient for persons passing through St. Louis on I-55. [Google Maps] See also www.BikeGrantsTrail.com
October, 2006: A correspondant informed me the Eurasian Tree Sparrows could be found in south St. Louis at Mathilde Park. [Google Maps]
|Eurasian Tree Sparrows (photo by Dennis Roach). Click on image for enlargement.|
Aubuchon Road. ETS also occur in the Missouri River floodplain in the northwest part of the county. This area is close to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, although you will need a car. From the airport, head west on I-70 for about 3.5 miles, then north on I-270 for 2 miles (stay in right lane once on I-270), and west on MO-370. After about 3 miles, exit MO-370 at the Earth City Expressway. At the light at the bottom of the off ramp, turn right onto Missouri Bottom Rd. and generally head east. When Aubuchon Road is encountered, continue straight ahead on it. Explore all side roads, farmyards, ball fields, and the area of St. Stanislaus Park and St. Stanislaus Conservation Area (Missouri Dept. of Conservation). After passing the conservation area, the road (now Charbonier Rd.) heads up the bluff, so the parking lot of the conservation area is a good place to turn around and backtrack. [Google Maps]
"Little Creve Coeur Lake." The "
Little Creve Coeur Lake" area (the unofficial name of a wetland southwest
of Creve Coeur Lake) has been one of the most reliable locations at which
to find ETS recently (1999-2002). Also, it is one of the closest
areas to the airport. To get there, locate the intersection of
Olive Blvd. (also called Olive St.) and I-270 on a St. Louis area map
circle on ). This intersection is on the west leg of the I-270 loop, three
exits (exit 14) south of the I-270/I-70 intersection. Head west
on Olive Blvd. exactly 2.0 miles to Creve Coeur Mill Road (Royal Bank
building on the right). Go right (north) on Creve Coeur Mill Road
1.3 miles and locate the driveway and sign for the "Seeger West County
Golf Range" on your left, over the railroad tracks. Enter the
driving range driveway and go to the back where you will see two red buildings.
Park in front of the red space on either barn being careful not to block
the big white doors. The doors are used as entries for County Park Department
employees to gain access to equipment stored therein. The ETS will
be somewhere within 100 yards of the first red building. Frequently
they are on the ground in the grove of trees that you drove through just
before the red buildings. They nest in an old dead tree in that
grove. Little Creve Coeur Lake itself lies in the flood plain below the
red buildings. The dike road on the left side of the lake has provided
very good birding, especially during the spring and fall migration seasons.
Maps ] 2006: At this time there is some question about ownership
of this property. WGNSS and the St. Louis Audubon Society have an agreement
with the local police that birders are welcome. If you are questioned
by police, tell them you're looking for birds. Things may change.
2007: This area is no longer available for birding.
St. Charles County, Missouri
Orchard Farm Christmas Bird Count Circle. Another consistent place to find the ETS is the floodplain between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers in eastern St. Charles Co. Much of this area, as well as part of the Aubuchon Rd. area of St. Louis Co. discussed above, is in the Orchard Farm Christmas Bird Count circle. I have compiled this CBC for 12 years. The count routinely reports the highest numbers of Eurasian Tree Sparrows of any CBC in Missouri; typically 20-30 observers see 100-300 birds (more than 700 were seen on January 3, 2000). The count is held on a single day, usually around New Year’s day. [Google Maps]
The birds are usually seen in shrubs and trees along roadsides, in farmyards, in trees near the big rivers, and in weedy fields. They are usually not found in deep riverbottom forests or open fields that have no cover. In winter, it is not uncommon to find flocks of a few to several dozen birds. Again, your chance of finding an ETS here in summer is less than in other times of the year, although they are undoubtedly present.
It is probably not worth visiting this area unless you have half a day to spend and you want to combine your ETS search with other birding. The floodplain is a good place to find raptors and Lapland Longspurs in winter, and shorebirds in spring and fall (if it’s been wet but not too wet). The area is described in detail in Birds of the St. Louis Area – Where and When to Find Them, but here are a some brief guidelines.
|I have never failed (well, almost never) to find a Eurasian Tree Sparrow in the brush pile at the parking lot of the Marais Temps Clair Conservation Area [MTC HQ on ; Google Maps]. (Photo by Randy Korotev, October, 2006, at MTC)|
MO-94 is the main route through the county (blue road on ). From the west, follow the directions for the Aubuchon Rd. area, above, but continue west on MO-370 across the Missouri River and take the first exit, MO-94 east. Your route will be north, then east along or paralleling MO-94 until the roads ends at US-67 north of St. Louis at West Alton. MO-94 itself is not birder friendly because it is a busy road with no shoulders, but there are numerous side roads to explore. You will need a good map. Two areas worth exploring are the Marais Temps Clair Conservation Area (access on south side off Island Rd. ) and Grafton Ferry Rd., where it dead ends at the Mississippi River. When you get to US-67, head north and visit the Riverlands Environmental Demonstration area. Alternatively, visit Riverlands first, then drive MO-94 from east to west to St. Charles.
Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary (formerly, Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area) . "Riverlands" was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of the building of new Lock and Dam 26R on the Mississippi River. Since its opening, it has become the premier place in the St. Louis area to see water related birds. It is the most accessible place in the area to see large numbers of Bald Eagles in winter. A remarkable list of rarities have been seen including Neotropic Cormorant, Wood Stork, Black-necked Stilt and most of the 19 species of gulls that have been seen in the St. Louis area. The area is described in detail in Birds of the St. Louis Area Where and When to Find Them. Because the main road through Riverlands runs east-west and the river is to the north, viewing conditions at Riverlands are usually always favorable when the sun is shining.
There are few trees in any of the accessible areas of Riverlands, so this is not a good place to find ETS in the nesting season. However, birders looking for more exotic fare often report seeing Eurasian Tree Sparrows in the weedy fields other times of the year. The Corps has bird feeders at the Visitors Center that often attract ETS.
To reach Riverlands from I-270 north of the city, head north on MO-367 (toward Alton, IL), which becomes US-67 in north St. Louis Co. Cross the Missouri River and continue north (you will pass the east end of MO-94 near West Alton). Turn right (east) just past the Fisca service station (R on this ; detail map ). If you miss this turn, enjoy your trip over the Mississippi River on the beautiful Clark bridge into Alton, Illinois. [Google Maps]
Madison and St. Clair Counties, Illinois
Horseshoe Lake area. Horseshoe Lake is in the Mississippi River floodplain just east of downtown St. Louis. ETS are routinely found around the lake, in adjacent agricultural areas, and even in semi-industrial areas south of the lake. Because this area is near I-55, I-64, and I-70, it is a convenient persons passing through St. Louis, either east to west or north to south.
From downtown St. Louis, head east on I-55/70. Exit at IL-111 (blue road on ) and head north about two miles to Horseshoe Lake State Park. Explore trees along the road running along the lakeshore, both north and south (birds were present here in Sept., 2000, just west of the headquarters building). In particular, cross the causeway to Walkers Island and check the trees in the area of the parking lot just after reaching the island (HL on ). ETS have nested in the big cottonwoods, although this spot has been less reliable of late. [Google Maps]
If you dont have luck at Walker's island, return to IL-111, turn south (right), proceed 0.2 miles, and then turn left onto Schoolhouse Rd. After 0.4 miles, turn right onto Bruns Rd. Check the wires and farmyards. This has been a consistent stretch of road for ETS in recent years. Bruns Rd. ends at a T with Bishoff Rd. A left turn loops around back to a point north on Bruns Rd. A right turn brings you to Sand Prairie Rd. At Sand Prairie Rd. you can turn right to return to IL-111 (red loop on ) or left to go to the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. This site is a worthwhile visit and one of the most interesting cultural features in the area. Twenty years ago, ETS could be found nesting in the trees around the old visitors center. It is likely that some are still in the area, but I have heard no reports for many years.
Frank Holten State Park. Frank Holten State Park, near Centreville, IL, has historically been one of the most consistent places to find the ETS. I saw my first ETS there in 1977 and on my last visit in May 1998 I saw several in a small tree in a parking lot near one of the lakes. The park is big and difficult to describe; birder intuition is required. The main road through the park has many pulloffs and parking lots to explore.
Holten Park is a few miles south of Horseshoe Lake and easily accessible from downtown St. Louis via I-64, then south on IL-111. From Horseshoe Lake, just head south on IL-111 (blue road on ). I saw an ETS in a parking lot in a semi-industrial area along this route once). For I-55 (Chicago-Memphis) travelers who choose to avoid St. Louis by using I-255, which bisects Holten park, this is the most convenient place to look for the ETS. Take exit 19 from I-255 and follow the signs. [Google Maps]
Jersey and Calhoun Counties, Illinois
Jersey Co. ETS have been seen (east to west) in Elsah (check the feeders), Grafton, and near the river in Pere Marquette State Park [Google Maps]. To be honest, I have never seen one at any of these places, but I haven't tried hard.
Calhoun Co. The most inaccessible good area to find the ETS in the St. Louis area is southern Calhoun Co. [Google Maps] The county, in effect, is a peninsula between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The area can be reached from Alton by taking the Great River Road west and crossing the Illinois river on the free ferry just west of Grafton (F on ). Start looking for the ETS at the ferry landing and along the road that runs along the river on the Calhoun Co. side. [Google Maps]
The main attraction here is the Two Rivers (Mark Twain) National Wildlife Refuge, and my experience with this area again is largely in winter during the Pere Marquette Christmas Bird Count. While surveying the refuge and adjacent upland areas, we typically find about 50 ETS. We always find some around the refuge headquarters [2RIVERS-HQ on ; Google Maps]
Acknowledgments: Thanks to Paul Bauer, Mike Flieg, Herb Grench, Ken Hartung, Anthony Lang, Bob Lamberton, John Solodar, Dennis Roach, Bill Rowe, Claudia Spener, and Bob Wells for providing information and directions.
Lang, Anthony (1992) The Eurasian Tree Sparrow population in North America: Evolving and expanding. Birders Journal, vol. 1, 298-307.
Widmann, Otto (1909) Summer Birds of Shaw's Garden, Twentieth Annual Report of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 5962.
Last updated: 26-Feb-2011