09 May 2022

Hufuf Sparrow - Alkwifriah

'Hufuf Sparrow' Passer (domesticus/indicus) hufufae was described by Ticehurst & Cheesman, 1924, from Hufuf Saudi Arabia, and which also occurs southwards to the UAE and northern Oman. This Sparrow is currently a subspecies of House Sparrow but has quite a few distinguishing features. Hadoram Shirahai suggested I look for this sparrow in the areas near the UAE boarder if I am ever in that area, as he had seen them in the UAE not too far from the border on a recent visit. Jennings states that the status in Arabia: pre-1984, hufufae near Hufuf Oasis, perhaps eastern Saudi Arabia coastal area and possibly UAE/Oman, but indicus mostly in Arabian port areas, likely of dhow/ship assisted origin. Post-1984, indicus being more adaptable to commensal behavior, has expanded quickly into oil, agriculture & commerce based settlements and hufufae has been swamped out of existence by hybridisation and being out-competed. There are not many records I know of, of hufufae in Saudi Arabia recently so I was keen to see if we could locate some or if Jennings comments held true. Our visits to the Uqayr, earlier this year, did not yield any likely looking birds, but we were going much closer to the UAE boarder to the Salwa area and hoped we may locate some here. Whilst in the Sawa area we visited some small holdings and heard some unusual sparrow like calls coming from and extensive hedged area. Sparrows were occasionally dropping to the ground to collect nesting materials but all were females. The birds in the hedge although calling all the time were very difficult to see but eventually, we saw some very small looking males with white underparts and cheeks. We also saw some typical indicus showing both indicus and hufufae occurred side by side in the area. This suggests they do the same in Saudi Arabia from Hufuf southwards to the UAE border, assuming they still occur in Hufuf itself. Hufuf Sparrow appears to occur in much smaller numbers than indicus with a number of areas where only indicus was noted near to where we had seen hufufae. It will be interesting to see how far north this type of small sparrow occurs in Saudi Arabia and if it still occurs in the Hufuf region and even further north. In the field the Hufuf Sparrow appeared very small and gave the impression of a Silverbill (with a small bill) as they were small and slightly elongate looking. hufufae is distinctly whiter below, and with whiter cheeks, and more obvious rufous markings on the head and less white in the supercillium area, with what sounded to us like differences in calls.