AppearanceThe Spanish sparrow is a rather large sparrow, at 15–16 cm in length, and 22–36 g in weight. It is slightly larger and heavier than house sparrows, and also has a slightly longer and stouter bill. The male is similar to the house sparrow in plumage, but differs in that its underparts are heavily streaked with black, has a chestnut rather than grey crown, and has white rather than grey cheeks. The female is effectively inseparable from house sparrow in its plumage, which is grey-brown overall but more boldly marked. The female has light streaking on its sides, a pale cream supercilium, and broad cream streaks on its back.
The two subspecies differ little in worn breeding plumage, but both sexes are quite distinct in fresh winter plumage, with the eastern subspecies "P. h. transcaspicus" paler with less chestnut.
DistributionThe Spanish sparrow has a highly complex distribution in the Mediterranean region, Macaronesia, and south-west to central Asia. It breeds mostly in a band of latitude about fifteen degrees wide, from the Danube valley and the Aral Sea in the north to Libya and central Iran in the south. Its range has expanded greatly by natural colonisation over the last two centuries, in the Balkans, where it reached Romania, Serbia, and Moldova from 1950 onwards; and in Macaronesia, where its range expansion has been attributed to introductions and travel by ship, but was more likely natural colonisation by migrating birds. Vagrants occur widely, as far north as Scotland and Norway.
StatusThe European population of the Spanish sparrow comprises between 2,800,000 and 6,200,000 breeding pairs or 8,400,000–18,600,000 individuals. Partly from the European population, the global population is estimated to be between 17 and 74 million individuals. There have been population decreases in some parts of Europe, but in other areas the population has increased and the species is not seriously threatened, so it is assessed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.
BehaviorThe Spanish sparrow is strongly gregarious, flocking and breeding in groups. In the winter, it mostly wanders nomadically or makes regular migrations.
Little is known of the Spanish sparrow's survival, and the maximum age recorded is eleven years.
ReproductionThe Spanish sparrow nests in large colonies of closely spaced or even multiple shared nests. Nests are usually placed in trees or bushes, amongst branches or underneath the nests of larger birds such as White Storks. Colonies may hold from ten pairs to hundreds of thousands of pairs. Each pair lays 3–8 eggs, which hatch in 12 days, with the chicks fledging when about 14 days old. Males spend more time constructing nests than females.
FoodLike other sparrows, it feeds principally on the seeds of grains and other grasses, also eating leaves, fruits, and other plant materials. Young birds are fed mostly on insects, and adults also feed on insects and other animals during and before the breeding season. Nestlings are fed almost exclusively on insects for their first few days, and are gradually fed larger amounts of grains. The portion of insects in nestling diets is recorded at a range from 75 to over 90 percent. In preying on insects, the Spanish sparrow is opportunistic, feeding on whichever insects are most common. In Central Asia, these are caterpillars, ants, grasshoppers, and crickets. While migrating through Central Asia in the spring, the Spanish sparrow feeds mostly on crops in cultivated areas, and while breeding it feeds mostly on insects, wild plants, and seeds from the previous year.
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