People mistankenly assume this to be the same as the English sparrow. But, besides the differences in plumage, the Brazilian sparrow has a topknot which identifies it at first sight.
Found in every region of Brazil, the Brazilian sparrow does not fly in big groups, and does man and other birds (such as the Cowbird) inumerous services.
This bird is so popular in Brazil, there is even a very popular song in which it is the main character, "Tico-tico no Fubá" (Brazilian sparrow in the cornmeal). This bird is almost a symbol of the country's fauna, and the song, a true patrimony of the Brazilian culture.
The bird is, in fact, very fond of cornmeal. But its greatest peculiarity is the habit of scratching in litter from backyards, vegetable gardens and any soil in general. In Spanish, its name is "Corre por Suelo" (runs around the ground).
The "Corre por Suelo" is found in the spanish speaking countries of South America, in Central America, and even in the United States, where it is called sparrow. In all of these places where different languages are spoken, its scientific name is the same: Zonotrichia Capensis.
Of course there are physical differences. The American bird known as sparrow is not exaclty the same as the Brazilian Sparrow from the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Though they all belong to the same species, there are sub-species in the different regions. They differ from each other in subtle alterations of the feathers. Even in Brazil, there are 3 known sub-species. The ZC matutina lives in the Amazon reagion (in Brazil and also Bolivia); the ZC tocantins also prefers the Amazon, and the ZC subtorquata is found all over Brazil, and is the most popular in the country.
The emerging of differences in the same species is a phenomena explained by the fact that some groups are isolated in certain regions, separated from others by natural barriers. The Amazon River, for instance, is a geographic border the Brazilian Sparrows cannot cross, as they fly only short distances. Like great rivers, other barriers such as mountain chains, deserts, etc, contribute with the emerging of sub-species.
The civilization is also a factor of dispersion for the Brazilian Sparrows. They search for, and adapt well to a farm house. They also live in small towns. But, though they can be found in big cities, their survival there is difficult, due to the pollution and lack of great green areas, where they can build nests. In short: they need nature to survive.
In the popular song mentioned above, there is an untrue fact in the lyrics. Or, at least, there is an exageration. The Brazilian Sparrow is incapable of eating "all the cornmeal." The bird has even gained, unjustly, a reputation as being a harmful predator.
On the contrary, it lives in very small groups, each small in size (they are never bigger than 14cm). The food necessary for a whole band is hardly more than a plateful. Not to mention that they eat insects, clean the vegetable garden from harmful larvae. In short: they are very useful.
They also do a curious favor to another bird, the Cowbird (Molothurs bonariensis), hatching their eggs and feeding the babies. The Cowbird lays its eggs in the Brazilian Sparrow's nest, throwing away, in this operation, the eggs that were previously in the nest. The mother Sparrow sometimes raises, a whole litter of Cowbirds, until they reach adulthood. Around 50% of the nests have Cowbird eggs.
There are people who get confused with the English Sparrow, thinking it is the same as the Brazilian Sparrow, though there are basic differences. The English Sparrow lives in immense groups, likes bigger cities, hatches even in house roofs. As a trademark, the Brazilian Sparrow has a topknot which is raised everytime there is any sign of danger. The head is white, with black stripes, but the brown tonality is predominant. The craw is whitish, the chest brownish white, and the back brown, with black stripes. The Subtorquata sub-species has a white stripe on the chest. None of theses characteristics can be found in the English Sparrow, which is bigger, has a dark brown head with black dots, and a grayish brown body, darker than the Brazilian Sparrow. The name in Portuguese, Tico-tico, comes from the noise it makes. The male sings with four or five different notes, making a melody. The female sings more frequently while hatching.
Housing: The ideal place is a 1m wide x 3m long
x 2m high aviary, for one couple. But a 70 x 30 x 40cm cage is acceptable.
Maintain a basin with water, changed everyday, and sand. It is a good idea to
put some bushes in the aviary. Never put more than one couple in the same place.
Feeding: It eats basically grains. Give them birdseed and cornmeal in different bowls. When raising babies, add boiled eggs and larvae (found in specialized stores) and insects, such as drosóphilas (they can be attracted to aviary with a banana peel) which the bird will catch alive. Locusts are also appreciated.
Health: It is resistant. Fresh food and clean water are enough. There is no need of vaccines.
Breeding: Lasts from September through March. There is no visible distinction in the sexes. To isolate a couple, observe the behavior of the individuals. If there is aggressiveness, and they are not together, substitute one of them until you form a couple. Provide rope nests and protect them with artificial synthetic plants (foliage) for female's safety. The average bearing is 3 eggs, and hatching lasts 13 days. Babies fly when they are 15 days old, and can feed themselves when they are 35 days old. A female can have two or more bearings each year.
Note: To catch and to commercialize this bird is prohibited in Brazil by law # 5197.
Article based on interview with breeder Paulo Fernando Flecha, São Paulo.
Picture: Silvana Novelli