Daily BulletinHoliday Centre

The Conversation

  • Written by Simon Griffith, Professor of Avian Behavioural Ecology, Macquarie University

In Australia, like so many other countries, the house sparrow is one of the five most commonly seen birds in backyards and gardens. This is a result of intentional introductions over the past two centuries.

The story of how house sparrows came to Australia has several new twists. Recent research shows just how much effort was made to introduce the species as an early form of bio-control (almost a century before the cane toad was introduced to help control the cane beetle).

Most surprisingly, historical documents reveal that the first house sparrows to arrive and breed in Australia actually arrived from India, not England as has been believed for more than 100 years.

Alongside them came the most vilified introduced bird in Australia, the common myna.

Introduced birds

Over the past two centuries Australia has become a new home for hundreds of introduced species of plants and animals. Many of these have become serious pests, causing major losses to agricultural production and threatening Australia’s endemic biodiversity.

The house sparrow and myna dominate many urban areas in Australia but, on account of their dependence on people, have mostly stayed in human-modified environments. They have apparently caused little damage to native species.

While species have been introduced to Australia for a variety of reasons, many people assume that these birds were introduced for very frivolous ones.

Common belief is that English songbirds were introduced by homesick colonists so they could once again hear the familiar sounds of home, in a land where the birds were unfamiliar. But our research reveals a different story.

image If you have mynas nearby, you’ll know about it. Myna image from www.shutterstock.com

The sparrow campaign

The first sparrows arrived in Australia in late 1862. They were shipped after a prolonged campaign led by Edward Wilson, editor of the Melbourne Argus.

Wilson had established the Victorian Acclimatisation Society, set up with the support of the Victorian government to import useful species. Sparrows, it was thought, could help the struggling agricultural sector.

A series of articles and editorials in 1860-61 drew attention to famines in Hungary and France that were reportedly caused by the destruction of so many songbirds in the farming districts of those countries.

Studies in Switzerland showed that while sparrows do cause some damage to fruit crops, this is outweighed by the number of insect pests that the birds feed to their nestlings (3,000 per nest).

In 1860 Wilson called for farmers to “wage war” on insects pests with sparrows and starlings. He also confessed that:

I like to see a bird in the streets, and I have a kindly feeling for the sparrow for his friendly confidence in this way.

This attitude may explain accusations of frivolity, but the sparrow was valued above other birds because they associated more strongly with people than other birds, and their worth had been demonstrated in Europe and New York where they had been introduced to attack insects defoliating city trees.

By today’s standards, however, efforts to ascertain the ecological and agricultural risks were very poor. The same people are also to blame for the introduction of the rabbit, fox and carp – to mention just three major pests.

Indian arrivals

So, in the early 1860s, Wilson and the Acclimatisation Society went to great efforts to transport birds from Europe. Birds were kept alive during the long voyage by sea and then acclimated to Australian conditions by being held in large aviaries in Melbourne (on the site that later became the Melbourne Zoo), before their release around the colony. This was a challenging enterprise and the value of a live sparrow arriving in Melbourne encouraged greater care on board the ships.

An inadvertent consequence of the economic value placed on the arrival of a sparrow in Australia was that it created a new market for opportunism. The sea passage from India was significantly shorter than that from Europe and an enterprising shipping agent in India, G. J. Landells, took full advantage of this.

New research has uncovered clear documentary evidence that house sparrows arrived from India in 1862 and were breeding successfully in Melbourne before any arrived alive from England (in early 1863). This means it is highly likely that the house sparrows in Australia today are a genetic mix of Indian and European sparrows. The house sparrows in India were native to the subcontinent and are a different race of house sparrow from the one in Europe.

The newspapers of the time also make it clear that, along with each shipment of sparrows from India, a number of common mynas also arrived. This is presumably because they were abundant in the same places as the sparrows and it was argued that they would be a useful addition for eating insects in towns and farms.

In 1863, Landells placed an advertisement in The Sydney Morning Herald offering to export more “minas” to Melbourne for 20 shillings each, and house sparrows at ten shillings each.

While it’s unlikely that he became rich on the back of such a market, his enterprise changed the avian landscape of Australia’s backyards forever.

Authors: Simon Griffith, Professor of Avian Behavioural Ecology, Macquarie University

Read more http://theconversation.com/city-sparrows-came-to-australia-via-india-59730

INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

The Conversation

Politics

Closing the Gap Statement to Parliament

Mr Speaker, when we meet in this place, we are on Ngunnawal country. I give my thanks and pay my respects to our Ngunnawal elders, past, present and importantly emerging for our future. I honour...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Alan Jones

ALAN JONES: Prime Minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Alan.    JONES: I was just thinking last night when we're going to talk to you today, you must feel as though you've ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Prime Minister Bridget McKenzie press conference

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon everybody. The good news is that the Qantas flight is on its way to Wuhan and I want to thank everybody for their cooperation, particularly the Chinese Government as...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Choosing the Right Coworking Space For Your Business

As the capital of Victoria in Australia, Melbourne is inhabited by millions of people and is known as one of the most liveable cities in the world. The latter is due to the city’s diverse community...

Sarah Williams - avatar Sarah Williams

What Should You Expect from A Carpentry Apprenticeship?

Those wanting to pursue a career in woodwork, whether it be to make furniture, construct buildings or repair existing wooden structures, will have to first commence a carpentry apprenticeship. This ...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Tips To Choosing A Reliable SEO Company For Your Digital Marketing Agency

Working with a digital marketing agency Perth is the best bet in ensuring that your business is promoted well in the online space. If you are an app developer Perth, you may have to work closely wit...

News Company - avatar News Company

Travel

Travelling With Pets? Here Is What You Should Know

Only a pet parent can understand the dilemma one experiences while planning a vacation. Do you leave your pets at home?  Will you get a pet sitter or someone to take care of them while you are away?...

News Company - avatar News Company

How to Be a Smart Frugal Traveller

You are looking through Instagram, watching story after story of your followers overseas at a beach in Santorini, walking through the piazza in Italy, and eating a baguette in front of the Eiffel ...

News Company - avatar News Company

HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR GRADUATION TRIP

Graduation is the stage of life when a student receives the rewards of hard work of years. It must have taken sleepless nights and tiring days to achieve the task. Now, as you have received your cov...

News Company - avatar News Company

ShowPo