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Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Sparrow fell, today, in Robertson

"Two sparrows are sold for a penny, aren't they? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's permission. International Standard Version (©2008) 
(DJW Note: the last word "permission" is variously omitted, or substituted with other more clumsy phrases). But the biblical reference still stands as worthy of quoting.
Matthew Ch 10, V 29.

My point is simple: I found a freshly killed Sparrow in the middle of the Illawarra Highway, in Robertson, today. It cried out to be examined and photographed, for several reasons.

Firstly, Sparrows are a subject of reference in the Bible, and in later literature:
"Jesus's use of "sparrows" as an example of divine providence in the Gospel of Matthew also inspired later references, such as that in Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Gospel hymn His Eye Is on the Sparrow."

So, the figure of God the Father (or the "Creator") ought be pleased that at least this little Sparrow's life has not been shed completely in vain. I can at least use it for education purposes.

Secondly, under the Linnaean "binomial" system of taxonomic classification, the humble Sparrow (Passer domesticus) became, because of its familiarity to European scientists of the day, the "benchmark" for small perching birds (or "songbirds") - known today as Passerines (literally Sparrow-like birds). 

The Sparrow was one of the first birds to be named by Linnaeus, in 1758, and almost certainly, one of the first to have its name changed by virtue of a taxonomic revision (something familiar to Australian Orchid enthusiasts).
  • "The House Sparrow was among the first animals to be given a scientific name in the modern system of biological classification, since it was described by Carl Linnaeus, in the 1758 10th edition of Systema Naturae. It was described from a type specimen collected in Sweden, with the name Fringilla domestica. Later the genus name Fringilla came to be used only for the Chaffinch and its relatives, and the House Sparrow has usually been placed in the genus Passer created by French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760."
In my opinion, the Sparrow would never have assumed the position it has in taxonomy, if the taxonomists had been starting with Australian birds, which are primarily nectar-eaters or insectivorous. We have many "finches" in Australia, but they are not in any sense, "typical" of other birds (in Australia). But I guess that just proves my point about "taxonomists" - that their vision is limited by what they grew up studying, and their knowledge base has expanded from that base (or not). Linnaeus was  a creature of his time, and so is the Passer domesticus, and hence, the huge class of birds known as passerines.

Head of House Sparrow
massive wedge-shaped beak shows it is a seed eater.
Compare beak shape with the insectivorous Rufous Songlark below.

Feet structure of Sparrow.
three toes forward, and one large toe facing to the rear.
This structure if described as "Anisodactyly"

Plain patterns on wing of the female Sparrow
A successful camouflage colouring,.

Small "Brood patch" on this female Sparrow
Its presence indicates she has had a brood of chicks this year.
However, the fact that the brood patch is so small,
indicates she is not still sitting on eggs of young chicks.

Hopefully her young are able to survive with help of the father.

Head of Rufous Songlark -
clearly an insectivorous species.
Note the sharp pointed beak,
Suitable for probing for insects.
It is not a seed-cracking beak.
(ignore the shadow, if you can)


Flabmeister said...

An excellent post (as always).

In recent years their population seems to be declining worldwide. The usual explanation seems to be declining birth rate due to lack of hedges to nest in. But they seem to nest quite happily in buildings so perhaps it is an increasing death rate?

Is a later post to cover the provenance of the Rufous Songlark (or have I not been paying attention to earlier posts)?


Mr. Smiley said...

A nice story based on the serendipity of finding a roadkill.

That poor little sparrow has served its purpose.


mick said...

I am impressed with the breadth of your knowledge although I did have to look up the quote from Hamlet. Very interesting about the classification. I know our classifications are much more accurate with DNA to back them up - but those old guys -with nothing except their observations - made a pretty good job of it back then.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Martin and David.
Your support for publishing stories about dead creatures (for educational purposes) is appreciated.
And now Martin wants me to complete the circuit, with the Songlark. It came from Cowra, not Robertson. But all will be explained later (after I have cleaned off the shadows from the beak).
Thanks again.

Mac_fromAustralia said...

Oh, so the surprisingly tuneful sparrows I've been noticing aren't sparrows? [embarrassed]

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Mac
I noticed your comment about "tuneful Sparrows".
More likely to be Honeyeaters or maybe even the Songlark I happened to have commented upon. The Canberra birders are reporting them in increasing numbers this year (more than in previous years).

Swan Pond said...

I'd never noticed the connection with passer and passerine before. Thanks for this background on sparrows.