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> The Extinct Mammals of Palestine
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> Dead Sea Sparrow
By Sami Backleh
This Week in Palestine April 2005
The male Dead Sea sparrow is considered the smallest and most colourful among its family. It is characterized by its greyish head with a pale yellowish supercilium, and a light yellow neck-side. The back is brown with black stripes and some white patches on its wings. The female of that species looks like a house sparrow but smaller and paler, with traces of yellow on its neck-side.
The Dead Sea sparrow, as the name implies, is a resident and an endemic species to the Dead Sea area, inhabiting warm low-lying desert and semi-desert climates. It can be found in isolated localities throughout the Dead Sea depression, the Jordan River Valley, and even on the lower Golan Heights during some periods. Its distribution is discontinuous as it requires areas with tamarisk trees and constantly available water, or thick scrubs and some trees and bushes that afford cover and nesting-sites within those areas. It can also be found in well-cultivated lands along the Jordan Valley, particularly in the Jericho area.
The sparrow is mainly a seed-eating bird that feeds primarily on tamarisk seeds, which it collects from the ground, besides insect food obtained by searching the leaves of bushes and small trees such as the willow, Acacia and reed. Its breeding season begins from April to mid August. The male begins the nest-building alone, sometimes as early as February. In comparison with other songbird nest size, the sparrow builds a big, open globular or cone-shaped structure made of stiff dry twigs and finely interwoven round branches of trees lined with a thick pad of plant down and fibres.
In Palestine, the Dead Sea sparrow is a common resident that roams in the low-lying eastern and northern parts of the Jordan Valley. It faces some environmental threats, especially poisoning through pesticide use particularly in the Jericho area and other cultivated areas along the Jordan Valley. Many of its nests are abandoned during the breeding season owing to the lack of water sources, fires, or predation, mainly by snakes. Thus the need to protect its habitat is important for the long term survival of that bird, as a way of conserving one of our endemic species.
Sami Backleh is a freelance wildlife researcher.