Eurasian Tree Sparrow
The Eurasian Tree Sparrow was brought to North America by two St. Louis nature lovers who released them, along with several other species of birds, in Lafayette Park on April 25, 1870.
A concise account of their arrival and fate is found in an article published in the “Twentieth Annual Report” of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 1909, by Otto Widmann. An excerpt from that article follows:
“The history of this exclusively St. Louisan species is interesting. During the first ten years after the Civil War it was quite a fad among nature-lovers in the United States to attempt the acclimatization of European singing birds; well- meaning persons in all parts of the country imported or bought them from bird dealers and set them free, but, unfortunately, with very poor results as far as St. Louis is concerned. Among a lot of different kinds of birds, such as Chaffinches,, Bullfinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and siskin, bought by Messers Carl Daenzer and Kleinschmidt, there were twenty European Tree Sparrows . All these birds were liberated in Lafayette Park on April 25, 1870. After a few days all had left the park and nothing was seen of any of them, though sometimes unauthenticated reports came in that this or that bird had been seen at such and such place. The Tree Sparrows were the only ones found to have taken root in the city, for in the summer of the following year it was discovered that they were quite at home in the vicinity of breweries in the southern part of the city. From that time on their future seemed to be secure; they had no trouble in finding food and nesting sites, were well liked, and spread farther from year to year. But in the meantime their larger cousins, the House Sparrows, which had made their original start from the center of town, and had become more and more abundant, began to invade the domaine of the Tree Sparrow, driving them out of their nesting and roosting places , thereby forcing them farther and farther toward the outskirts of the city. In 1878 the invasion of of the House Sparrow and expulsion of the Tree Sparrow reached the old city limits at Keokuk Street…. but it did not stop there…. until at present there are very few places in the city where the Tree Sparrow survives.”
Today, the European, or Eurasian, Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus, is found only in St. Louis, along the Illinois River, and along the Mississippi River north to southern Iowa. Its larger and more aggressive cousin, the House Sparrow, Passer domesticus, also an introduced species, has spread throughout the United States.
It is difficult to tell the two species apart. Both have the same reddish brown black- streaked back. The adult male House Sparrow has a larger black spot on its chin and throat than does the male Tree Sparrow but the Tree Sparrow has a distinguishing mark, a black round spot on the side of its head surrounded by a white cheek.
Carl Daenzer is well known today figure in St. Louis history. Daenzer was a prominent German-American editor and publisher in St. Louis. He took a leading part in the German revolution of 1848 and, having been condemned to death, fled to America. He reached St.Louis in 1851 and became assistant editor of The Anzieger. He started the Westliche Post in 1857 and later acquired The Anzieger which eventually merged with the Westliche Post. He is one of the three German-American editors memorialized by the monument located in the Compton Hill Water Tower Park which contains The Naked Truth statue, symbolizing ”Truth” and the enlightenment of Germany and the United States. His collaborator in releasing imported species of birds here, Mr. Kleinschmidt, is not as well known.
Note: In 2010, the National Wildlife Federation designated Lafayette Park as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.