27 October 2012

Indian Silverbill flock – Dhahran Hills

Whilst birding the local ‘patch’ I found a small flock of nine Indian Silverbills feeding on some grasses growing next to a small ditch near to the abandoned spray fields. The birds were initially located by their distinctive calls. They were associating with a small group of House Sparrows but after a while the House Sparrows left and only the Indian Silverbills remained. This is one of the largest groups of birds I have seen with the majority of sightings being pairs, or up to four birds, often flying over but occasionally perched in small bushes or trees. I have seen them in every month of the year excepting December and February. There has been some debate as to whether this species was originally from escaped cage birds or occurred naturally.

Birds were first noted in Dhahran in 1974 when up to 15 were seen occasionally with House Sparrows during April to December. These birds were considered as escapes as many were for sale in nearby Al-Khobar at the time. This may have in fact been the start of colonization of this species in the Eastern Province? A pair and another party of four were seen at the Dammam sewage works 23rd May 1980 which appeared wild. Numbers then started increasing with four at Dhahran 19th September until 18th October 1981 and six reappearing at the same site during January 1982. Twelve birds were present in an area of neglected cultivation on the outskirts of Dammam in July & August 1984 when a few were also seen in Dhahran. By 1988 small flocks of about ten birds had established themselves at a number of locations within the Saudi Aramco camp but breeding had not been established.  By the end of the 20th centuary breeding birds had been noted in many places in the Eastern Province with nest building recorded in every month of the year. Since this date small groups of birds are still to be found in the Saudi Aramco camp where they appear to be resident with groups occurring in the autumn presumably after breeding has occurred.